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November 04, 2002

Turner Prize: Tate v. Howell


Intrigued by the furor over UK culture minister Kim Howell’s negative comments regarding the work of the four short-listed finalists for this year’s Turner Prize, I did a little research on the plain-talking minister. According to the Guardian, this isn’t the first time Minister Howell has made blunt remarks:

[Howells] described the royal family last year as "all a bit bonkers" and had to apologise after saying in a Commons debate that "the idea of listening to three Somerset folk singers sounds like hell."

Since he seems like a remarkably perceptive fellow, I thought we could use his remarks to stage a debate over the work of at least two of the four finalists. For the “pro” side of the debate, I took some remarks from the website of the Tate, which held the exhibition and hands out the prize.

Entry of Liam Gillick, Turner Prize Finalist

What the Tate says:

[Gillick’s] art is underpinned by rigorous theorising: he is as much a writer as a maker of objects. However, Gillick's work is shaped by a very visual awareness of the way different properties of materials, structures and colour can affect our surroundings and therefore influence the way we behave. Coats of Asbestos Spangled With Mica (2002), made of coloured Perspex and anodised aluminium, has been created specifically for this exhibition. In this work, Gillick encourages us to explore our bodily and intellectual perception of an altered environment.

What the Minister says:

I've sat under perspex roofs like that in canteens since the mid-1960s. It's not at all interesting. It's very, very boring.
Entry of Fiona Banner, Turner Prize Finalist

What the Tate says:

Banner explores the seemingly limitless possibilities of language, yet at the same time demonstrates how words can often fail us, exposing our inability to convey internal thoughts, emotions and experiences. Since 1994, she has created handwritten and printed texts, which describe feature films or particular scenarios in meticulous detail. Since 2000, Banner has used pornographic film to explore sexuality and the extreme limits of written communication. In the works shown in the exhibition, she transcribes the activities taking place in Arsewoman in Wonderland, an X-rated version of Alice's fictional adventures.

What the Minister says:

I thought it was a piece of pointillism [dot painting] when I walked into the gallery but it turns out to be her description of a porno movie.

As for me--a onetime art student who has personally created installations with his own hands--I must admit that my suspicions as to the seriousness of the Turner Prize committee are aroused by the general vagueness and the lack of impact of the installation art they've been handing these prizes out to. One suspects if the work "read" well enough to convey any genuine heat, it would be rejected as insufficiently shocking to the bourgeoisie, or whoever it seems they think they're shocking.

Turner Prize Presenter and Media Attention Grabber

I sense the whole ethos of the Turner Prize was best summed up by the fact that last year’s prize was awarded by Madonna, who uttered the following immortal words about the £ 20,000 prize:

Art is always at its best when there is no money, because it is nothing to do with money and everything to do with love," [Madonna] said.

Coming from somebody who pulled in £36 million this year (and a good deal of that from a deal she did with Microsoft to use her song “Ray of Light” to launch Windows XP) those remarks show that Madonna and the Turner Prize appear made for one another. Here’s hoping that she either gives the prize out with equally cogent remarks for years to come or that the prize committee finally wises up and just hands her the check for £ 20,000. She could even generate more publicity by tearing it up--heck, she can afford it.



posted by Friedrich at November 4, 2002


what a woundful peace of work desplaid by fiona, i found it most insiaring

Posted by: charlotte elliss on December 19, 2002 7:24 AM

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