BBC BLOGS - The Reporters: Razia Iqbal
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Has the Turner found its limits?

Razia Iqbal | 13:03 UK time, Monday, 1 December 2008

The Turner prize has acquired a reputation for controversy and grabbing the headlines. From Damien Hirst's shark, to Chris Ofili's use of elephant dung and Tracey Emin's unmade bed, it has been a tabloid editor's dream target for more than a decade.

And for Tate, shooting down contemporary art was part of the game: it got great publicity and people went to see the exhibition. This year, Tate at least is holding onto the same line, that its comment room shows that thousands of people are engaging with the Turner and contemporary art generally.

However, this year's shortlist is short on energy and long on theory, which makes it one the tabloids at least, can happily ignore. The Turner Prize has played an important role in our cultural life: bringing artists to public attention, who would otherwise just be beavering away in their studios, is a sign of critical engagement.

This year's shortlist includes three women: Runa Islam from Bangladesh; Goshka Macuga from Poland and Cathy Wilkes from Scotland, and the sole male: Mark Leckey. There are several video installations and some works, which you may be tempted to walk past without feeling you've seen any at all.

I thought that about some of Goshka Macuga's installation - two of the pieces resembled a place I could have left my bike. The installation is looking at the relationships between two twentieth century modernist couples: British surrealists Paul Nash and Eileen Agar, and German architect Mies van der Rohe and designer Lily Reich. If artists were acting as curators, this would be interesting, but art that does not speak for itself, that needs to be explained is difficult for those who are interested in art, but don't have an MA from Goldsmiths.

So, is the prize dead in the water, or just keeping its head afloat for another year? This year, whoever wins, perhaps there should be an acknowledgement that there is a problem with the unwritten rule that an artist should not appear on the shortlist more than twice.

In any generation, there are surely only a handful of brilliant artists and most of them have won it already and those who haven't, have been shortlisted twice or fall outside the under fifty years of age requirement. Is there a limit to cutting edge, and have we reached it?


  • Comment number 1.

    Dear Razia

    Instead of writing the above essay, you should have been at Tate Britain today to report on the Stuckist demo against the Turner Prize.

    I'm sure Turner would turn in his grave if he know how his name is being abused to promote tripe. No artistic genius has been discovered or awarded. The winners have been a succession of twerps whose only talent is self-promotion.

    The prize has become so embarrassing that no sponsor could be found for it this year. Time to call "Time" on the Turner Prize.

  • Comment number 2.


    i think the stuckists are getting all the media coverage they deserve, very little.


    "In any generation, there are surely only a handful of brilliant artists and most of them have won it already..."

    bonkersthink! this is not the bbc comedy awards, brilliant art wins the turner prize, not "brilliant artists". I can assure you that the vast majority of "brilliant artists", who fall within the turner's selection criteria, have neither won it nor been short listed.

  • Comment number 3.

    Post Duchamp the cry was always 'if the artist says it is art, then it is art.'

    Perhaps these days the cry should be 'if the viewer doesn't realise it is art, then it isn't art.'

  • Comment number 4.

    Art is irrelevent. There are works of art - and there are people that make a living from production of works of art, whom we are happy to call artists. Yes, the Turner prize is frivolous, but it boosts sales and discussions. Is any of it worth anything? Probably not - but art since 1750 has been useless objects for decorating the premises of the elite, so Turner's name is quite appropriate for such a prize.

  • Comment number 5.

    Oh it's all so old hat and jaded! These are the things we were doing in art schools way back in the seventies... and, even then, we were merely regurgitating ideas from earlier in the century... from Duchamp and Yves Klein to Black Mountain College... Trouble is, today there's too much 'business' and not enough 'integrity' in 'art'.

  • Comment number 6.

    …art is a manifestation of emotion, and emotion speaks a language that all may understand… I cannot agree with the artists who claim superciliously that the layman can understand nothing of Art, and that he can best show his appreciation of their works by silence and a cheque-book.

    W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and sixpence , edition 10 (Vintage, London, 1919) pp.2.

    Time will tell!

  • Comment number 7.

    Have you ever noticed that whereas most BBC blogs get reams of responses your blog only receives a handful? I mention this not as a criticism of your blog, which is witty and intelligently written, but it is indicative of the position that the arts now take in our society. I believe that the Turner Prize is partly responsible for this woeful state. The arrogance of the professional artist/critic is so off-putting that it is no wonder people think that art has no relevance today. Elephant dung, a man dressed as a bear, an unmade bee etc etc etc exactly who is this supposed to be engaging? Not the public that's for sure. Fine, if the art world wants to be seen as an exclusive club, stop asking for hand outs. Artists do not appear to rise above simple navel gazing rather than actually having something to say.

  • Comment number 8.

    Is it really that the Turner Prize nominations are stale and uninspired this year? Or is it, perhaps, that many people, including yourself, are finally realising that a random assemblage of unconnected objects, a few badly shot videos, and some time switched digital audio files do not make anything that remotely resembles great art.

    In a field which is dominated by patrons and gallery owners who are only seeking to inflate prices and make profits from sales to eager, but ignorant, collectors, the contemporary world of 'modern art' has become nothing more than a commercial industry in search of new 'units' to shift from the 'factory' to the marketplace.

    'Art' in any meaningful sense has long since disappeared from this part of the creative world and it is an unfortunate testament to the effectiveness of the associated propaganda machine that so many people, including yourself, are taken in by the lie.

  • Comment number 9.

    Razia Iqbal here: I can't agree that art is irrelevant. Our engagement with it can be truly transformative, whether it is visual, books, theatre, music etc. I can though, see exactly why some people would attribute its irrelevance to the way the Turner prize and those responsible for how it has developed, crave publicity and sometimes mistake it for the "public's engagement with and discussion of art", to slightly paraphrase Tate. I think some of the artists who have won the Turner prize in the past are truly great artists, but they would be that without the prize.

  • Comment number 10.

    Three comments here are interesting: two of them represent 'classic' theories of what art is/ how it works. One says it is about what people are willing to catogorise as 'art', practitioners. viewers, critics, and galleries (commercial or otherwise). The objects/experiences have nothing in common. Another says it is the shared emotional reaction by viewers to the work which maybe engendered by the artist. Certainly advertising creatives might believe this of their work ( transformed by Andy Warhol at the Hayward). A third view not found here, is that art is what is in the work and its context. It is the an extended version of the notion of 'significant form' which can be asked of any work and can link disparate examples into one fuzzy category of 'art'

    Cutting across these is the element of 'taste' (comment 4 is a classic on this) There is an excellent 'In Our Time' episode still on that programme's website which explains how the idea of taste developed. Nowadays you don't have to own the work... just talk about it.... (see Reza's blog on November 24th)

    To appreciate/appropriate what people say is art at the gallery, requires at least the same amount of attention as a serious visit to the theatre. It needs preparation, selection (gluttony in the art gallery leads to indigestion), and reflection with the help of the catalogue. You can sell the latter at half price on Amazon later, or store it carefully and let it appreciate. This sort of serious appreciative work' can be practiced with the ads in the posh papers once the shot of emotion been passed.

    It is up to the individual whether any of the works in the Turner Prize show turn out to be worth the effort.

  • Comment number 11.

    A continual stream of artists who cannot draw hands. Inspired by bags of white stuff to sell to people with white stuff attention spans and shabby new rich aspirations. Driven by bags of white stuff parties.

    "Oh how clever! the unmade bed is a ready made"

    How long is anyone going to marvel at how clever that little joke is without bags of white stuff? Gosh! I managed all of one second.

    The establishment has invested so much in this "movement" (sniff sniff) that it has lost any sense of perspective social or artistic.


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