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The Turner Prize 2010... and beyond

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Will Gompertz | 08:45 UK time, Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The Turner Prize short-list has dropped into my inbox. It's a mature, respectable Turner list this year - sensible rather than shocking. At 40-plus, all the artists are old for first-time nominees. This age group is what the art world calls "mid-career"; the cut-off for eligibility is 49.

It's odd that a bunch of quadragenarians should make up the entirety of the short-list.

The blurb says that the purpose of the prize is to "promote public discussion of new developments in contemporary British art." What new development is any of this lot heralding?

Dexter Dalwood

49-year-old Dexter Dalwood has been making uncanny paintings about famous locations of pop culture happenings for more than a decade. And 45-year-old Angela De La Cruz first discovered her thing was to change the emphasis of a painting into an object when she broke the stretchers over her canvases while a student at the Slade School of Art.

Angela de la Cruz

True, the 40-something duo the Otoliths have only been around since 2002, but that is eight years ago and their schtick - futuristic essay films using archive footage - hasn't changed. Nor have the disembodied sound works of Susan Philipsz altered dramatically in direction or conceit over the years.

It's not that any of the artists are unworthy, only that they could have been chosen years ago when what they were doing was actually new. Of the last three winners of the Turner Prize, two were 49 - that bodes well for Dalwood. Taken with this year's short-list, it implies a trend.

The Otolith Group

Could it be that nowadays there is an element of "Buggins' Turn" about the whole thing? "Quick, give it to him" - it is almost always a bloke who wins; of the 25 previous winners, only three have been female - "before he's 50: he's much better than the youngsters; it just took us a while to realise." Or is it a sign that the age of the YBA and its aftermath has run out of steam - that the sub-40s no longer cut the mustard?

Or is the enfant terrible of the British art establishment turning itself into a nice annual mid-career group show for established artists? The Turner Prize in its current form - four artists under 50 who have had an exhibition during the previous 12 months - was devised back in the 1990s by the journalist Waldemar Januszczak and the director of Tate, Nicholas Serota after Channel 4 took over its sponsorship; at the time, Januszazak was a C4 arts commissioner.

Susan Philipsz

For a while, Tate has been looking at ways to add a bit of spice, worried that the prize might be slipping out of fashion and might stop getting those precious column inches. A few years ago, with the help of the Gordon's Gin sponsorship, the prize money was increased substantially. The winner now receives £25,000 and each runner-up £5,000; previously, the losers received zilch. It was taken up to Liverpool as part of the city's Capital of Culture celebrations, which was a great success. Then Nick Serota decided to hand the chair over to the director of Tate Britain. As from last month, this is Penelope Curtis, the first female chair of the prize.

But the feeling remains that the prize is long due an overhaul: a change in the rules to make it international, maybe? Or perhaps let the public decide on the winner - a bad idea? The truth is that the Turner Prize is a victim of its time. We have been living in an age of relentless newness, the crack cocaine of a consumer society. The Turner embodies that insatiable desire for fresh ideas, the Next Big Thing, the life-affirming sense of being part of the zeitgeist.

Perhaps the truly radical approach would be to leave it alone: not to fiddle with the rules and principles at all, but simply to apply them more rigorously. Ryan Gander is a British artist creating new and interesting work. He was born in 1976, making him some way short of his 40th birthday. He had a show in 2008 at the South London Gallery and another in Nice in 2009; in the last two years, he has been overlooked for the short-list.

Maybe the new shock tactic behind the Turner Prize is one of exclusion: to generate debate about who is not on the list. That would be a novel way of fulfilling its stated role to promote public discussion of new developments in contemporary British art.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    'The Death of David Kelly' eh? Just quote a contentious and controversial incident and it means more than the actual quality of the art itself. Reminds me of the proliferation of Che Guevara T-Shirts from the same people who constantly cite the fact that Gordon Brown is 'unelected' then go on about how great Fidel Castro is.

  • Comment number 3.

    No contest - Banksy! At least he's trying to change the world.

  • Comment number 4.

    I think this looks at the issue from the wrong point of view. Why is an Artist being "older" deemed worthy of comment. Is this just another example of young = good?
    I'd like to know why the prize has an age cut off date of 49. Do Artists suddenly stop being any good at 50? Perhaps rather than internationalising the Prize as is suggested they should broaden the age range to make it more representative of the population and, for all we know, bring in more Artists too...

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm sure that large brown piece of fabric was covering up the bicycles in my garage last time I looked !

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    "the cut-off for eligibility is 49" - is ageist and unfair!

    The Turner Prize organisers seem guilty of prima-facie age discrimination.

    (I agree with #4 on this.)

  • Comment number 9.

    If art imitates life then most of todays 'artists' live in a very strange place.

  • Comment number 10.

    This is not art, it's rubbish put together by people who have nothing better to do, in the hope they can convince the gullible to think it is art.

  • Comment number 11.

    The question of age is one that the media has to address. There is an obsession with "New YOUNG talent", can talent not be NEW regardless of age? Being young and talented is very impressive, but this should not preclude the notion that anyone can be discovered at any age. As society suggests that we will now have more than one career in a lifetime, surely this means that post-40, or even 50 or 60 year olds, are still capable of drawing on extended life experiences to be creative and imaginative, who knows, maybe talent can be suprressed or discouraged throughout a lifetime, let's bring that experience to life!!

  • Comment number 12.

    I am confused. Could someone please explain what 'Buggins Turn' means. Is it something to do with Christopher Buggins?

  • Comment number 13.

    please don't call this art. It is expressionism, If art dealers could remove graffiti from walls and package it, they would gladly do so.
    By the way, most so called modern art is just a way to show contempt for the present form of existence.

  • Comment number 14.

    Yep, ageist and unfair. Actually, is it legal? I was fairly surprised to read it had a cut-off age. Still, if you've made it to 50 already, twenty-five grand won't change your life that much. You could go on a cruise, I suppose...

    The public, voting? Are you completely mad!

  • Comment number 15.

    Sadly, the YBA's were never a real movement, just a reflection of the ability of a weathy patron to raise mediocrity to the level of superstardom. Hirst, Emin et al, Emperor's new clothes anyone?

  • Comment number 16.

    "But is it art?" the masses demand? Well, yes and no, once again. Turner time, the narrow slice of the year when art raises its head above the parapet and the public take pot-shots at this strange sub-culture. A sub-culture, like all others, that has an overblown sense of its own importance. So is it art?

    "That's in the eye of the beholder mate!"

  • Comment number 17.

    Yet another selection of material which could have been produced by primary school kids for a weekend art project. Total junk. Where's the real talent hiding?

  • Comment number 18.

    The negativity of some of the comments on here is pathetic! such things as "safely say modern art is mostly crap" is worthless. Typical of someone that either doesn't enjoy art or have an open mind in regards to it. A simple throw away comment about 'oh i have seen this in my shed' is pointless without any form of debate, frankly its just childish. I completely agree with the age range points made as i dont see why an age restriction should be put on at all?! If you dont like any of the entries or art in general then dont comment or look at it.

    I for onelove the turner prize and think its great that such peices create such debates and opinions. Im not sure the suggestion on letting the public decide the winner is such a good idea as a portrait of Katie price aka Jordan is likely to show up and win!

    Dexter Dalwood is my choice for this year.......

    Long live the Turner Prize and Tate Modern.

  • Comment number 19.

    I think there are shifts, maybe it's because a lot of younger artists are going for the celebrity first approach rather than working. There was certainly a lot of that at the RA Summer Exhibition last year. This is judged on work not cache so might have a slightly differing view.

    One poster mentioned Banksy when he was deported from California (for a reason the moderators and British law won't let me say) in 2008 I was in NY at the time and NBC reported him as being 46. So age wise he is up there with this lot.

  • Comment number 20.

    Why are people in our society so obsessed with age? What difference does it make except to impact on equal opportunities for all?

  • Comment number 21.

    Some big presumptions there: (a) that all artists in their 40s are "mid career" and (b) that they're less capable of innovation than anyone younger. Younger artists don't necessarily have newer ideas! Perhaps a "truly radical approach" would be to ignore the age of the contestants? So very much in agreement with Charlie Ross (comment 11) on this one. Just for the record I'm only in my early 30s but weary of ageism and band-wagon jumping in the cultural press

  • Comment number 22.

    Well, it got you going, didn't it matey?

  • Comment number 23.

    Reply to Tony Foss, If it is actually Buggins Turn the who is going to 'Give it to him' ?

  • Comment number 24.

    Every single year we’re subject to the usual cliché and uninspired collection of derogatory comments directed at The Turner Prize by those who subscribe to the thoughtless ‘my 2 year old daughter could do that’ mantra.

    Drones such as these have been shouting from outside the gallery walls for centuries, try going inside and SEEING before relapsing into your reactionary beige waffle.

    By the way, in case of any confusion (which there seems to be on here) regarding the age of The Turner Prize artists… The Tuner Prize rules state you have to be under 50. That’s the rules of the entry to participate in The Turner Prize.

    I hope that’s cleared that up.

  • Comment number 25.

    This is more about the judges than the artists.
    The panel, Penelope Curtis included, are senior figures in art and culture.
    They couldn't say anything sensible about 25 year olds and the work they are making.
    If the work had technical levels of execution, they could at least comment on that.

    With conceptual art, they are making a judgment about the quality of ideas...
    It is slightly unusual for young adults to be philosophical. Then, past 50, ideas become increasingly

    Remember, it's not about the prize. It's about the discussion of the prize.

  • Comment number 26.

    Oh dear. Very, very disappointing! Never mind harping on about age - what about quality? For the selectors to over look artists such as Duncan Campbell and Claire Barclay (to name but a few artists who are actually making beautiful and influential art) is totally shocking.

  • Comment number 27.

    18. At 1:58pm on 04 May 2010, signori wrote:
    The negativity of some of the comments on here is pathetic! such things as "safely say modern art is mostly crap" is worthless. Typical of someone that either doesn't enjoy art or have an open mind in regards to it.

    The thing is signori I do enjoy art but apart from a picture by Salvador Dali and a few absract sculptures there was nothing in Tate Modern I saw at the weekend I would want to see ever again. Most of the stuff there and shortlisted for the Turner here is worthless crap it is NOT art. They are the pretentious efforts of talentless charlatens who have somehow convinced some people it means something. If I or my 8 year old daughter can reproduce it at home in a spare 5 minutes then it's not art. Art should make you smile and draw to to look closer not frown and walk away wondering what the hell it is and why its even there. From what I saw at the weekend in Tate Modern every pound spend on the building, staff and the art paid by the tax payers of this country and from lottery funds has been a pound wasted.

  • Comment number 28.

    "Art" has taken a conceptual turn in recent years, leading to what we see before us here, and for the past few years, in the nominations for the Turner Prize. The over-used question of "but what is art?" is being used far too often to advocate a dizzying and quite frankly sickening array of pointless pieces being classed as "art", and hence dominating such short-lists. Call me narrowminded, but where have the days gone where traditional art, so to speak, which required a modicum of talent, garnered the respect and appreciation it deserved? I'm all for diversification, debate and controversy, but a line needs to be drawn. I feel the public is of a similar mindset, yet are being distanced from an increasingly elitest artistic discourse through the sheer determination of art aficionados who try and make "art" more "mainstream" through nominating atrocities such as the Chapman Brothers' "Death" in 2003. In my opinion, Turner himself would be ashamed to have his name associated with such a work, and a prize that has substituted talent for publicity.

  • Comment number 29.

    If we accept the assumption that modern art is more about ideas than about execution or skill, then most modern artists are still lacking. If they are asked to explain their art, they still come out with a lot of pseudo-intellectual clap-trap. Just listen to fogged-out Emin, or posh-bloke Gormley et al. I don't know what subjects they teach at art school, but the power of intellectual analysis isn't one of them.
    Modern Art is one area where government subsidies will no doubt be removed - thank god! Just let the saatchi's of this world spend vast amounts on such bafoonery.

  • Comment number 30.

    "I do enjoy art but apart from a picture by Salvador Dali and a few absract sculptures there was nothing in Tate Modern I saw at the weekend I would want to see ever again"

    This sentence doesn’t reflect well on your understanding of art (or English) I’m afraid. The rest of it wasn’t great either.

  • Comment number 31.

    The AVANT-GARDE in the Art Decorations for Rich People category has been STANDARDIZED. The gallery owners are high end used car salesmen selling purposely incomprehensible objects to ignorant speculators. The leftist artists satisfy the rightist rich who buy the art, put it over the couch, and then tell people how much it has appreciated.

    During openings artists talk "career" and network. The celebrity artists are concerned with their fragile celebrity and the non-stars maintain and enhance their cronyistic teaching gigs.

    Meanwhile no one even believes in or even cares if there is such a thing as aesthetic philosophy, it is "all personal taste", from the womb and everyone has their own, considered or not. Long term education and hard fought wisdom mean nothing in a world of young stars.

    ‘It ain’t no contribution / To go and rely on an institution / To validate your chosen art / And to sanction your boredom, and let you play out your art’ Jim Carroll

    It has always been thus. Don't tell me I'm untrue. I WUV you.

  • Comment number 32.

    Too many "one trick ponies" here...I think about 15 mins of fame is all the nominees get out of this. What happened to the guy who did the light switching on and off for instance?...All the recent winners seem to disappear without trace, perhaps the Turner has become a poisoned chalice like the Mercury music prize.

  • Comment number 33.

    Who is the audience, and is it appealing to the audience? It would seem the audience are those that have complained about the negative comments. Or is the audience those people who view it negatively? If so then someone has a need to change the negative people's perceptions and not simply dismiss them as they dismissed the 'art'.

    For me these are 'artists' expressing an idea in ways they think they have skills to do so. But if the execution is not inspiring or does not capture my imagination, then I'm not going to be motivated to go beyond the object to the idea.

  • Comment number 34.

    Mmmmm. I for one am glad that they have chosen mid career artists regardless of what they produce which is always a subjective matter of choice. We have suffered in this country by this obsession with age - young hedge fund managers promoting their young artist friends to a gullible and spineless dealership. Anyone who really understands the art market and didn't start their careers in retail would know that the British art scene is viewed as a very strange ageist collective. You only have to go across the seas to the states or some of our european dealers to see what they really think. Curatorial skills in this country have been on the decline for over 15-20 years having been invaded by the rich middle classes who think that art would be fun to do for a little while before becoming a Z list celeb. No doubt this will be rejected because the British Intelligencia and the Cultural Mind Police do not for one like to be criticised outside of their West London abodes.

  • Comment number 35.

    Art has a psycho-analytical aspect - the psycho-pathology of the artist, of the viewer, and of the various roles involved in determining a piece of art as great or worthy.

    The directness of the message between the artist and the viewer (does it make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck) is what counts. This message has become diluted by the dealers, market forces, sponsors, and experts.

    Modern Art seems to have regressed to an infantile, anal stage (obsessed with bodiliy functions and fluids) where previously, it was somewhat obsessed with sex.

    My vote goes to Dexter - but the art only works because of some shared knowledge about who David Kelly was, and how he died.

  • Comment number 36.

    Well I guess I will not qualify for the prize since I am 60 years of age and only have been painting since 2000, taking it seriously only 2 years ago. With that said, the judgement should be on the quality of art and not be restricted or limited by ones age.

    Yet as I look at the samples that are presented here, I am very disappointed.

  • Comment number 37.

    "where have the days gone where traditional art, so to speak, which required a modicum of talent, garnered the respect and appreciation it deserved?"

    Nobody respected van Gogh or Paul Gauguin during their time. Now everyone WUVs them. Why is that? Do you think times have changed.

  • Comment number 38.

    "Who is the audience, and is it appealing to the audience?"

    Artists should not be hookers. They should not pander. But they should understand their audience.

  • Comment number 39.

    "15 mins of fame"

    Warhol's genius was he knew that his celebrity would allow him to sell horrible stuff to ignorant people. In fact he purposely made it horrible, ugly portraits, terrible silk screens, traffic accidents, electric chairs. He made fools of the ignorant people who bought his work for it's "aesthetic." It's amazing to see people ooh and ahh over his work today as if it is "beautiful."

    I'm not saying he was a bad artist, quite the opposite, he's UNDERRATED. He made fools out of aesthetically lazy but rich collectors and questioned our understanding of aesthetics. Which is where it's at. Questions.

  • Comment number 40.

    The Turner Prize, it seems, will always thrive with an element of controversy and thus also fulfil self publicity on the principal that all publicity is good in some spheres. From a few snapshots of some of the entries and without seeing a representative portfolio of their other works it is hard to judge the merit - of not - of the shortlisted artists. But let's give them credit and hope that among the controversial, the shock tactic and the plain baffling there will also be some inspired arts that most people would recognise as art without it needing to be installed in a gallery and labelled as art for us ignoramuses who can't tell our arts from our elbows to know that it wasn't just garage rubbish re-labelled.

    Now here's an idea for next year's entry. Since the definition of art seems very loose and subjective, can some budding artist print out and produce a winning piece from all of the comments submitted on this subject. If they are successful and manage to win a prize or are able to sell this for a considerable sum of money, I, and I guess many of the other contributors wouldn't object to a cut from any earnings thus made. Thank you in advance.

  • Comment number 41.

    I don't think the question posed should be "why are the entrants so old?", but more or "why is this junk classed as art?" or "who would actually pay for this stuff?". Personally, I don't see how any of this can be classed as being remotely artistic. Same in the past with the lightbulb going on and off with a timer, or an unmade bed. It seems I've been an undiscovered artist for years, except that I didn't put all of my household waste on a pedestal in a gallery.

  • Comment number 42.

    Your comments are disappointingly ageist.

  • Comment number 43.

    Good Morning
    The problem with most of the "Art" submitted for this prize reminds me of the story about the emperors new clothes. Peopple feel they have to like it because the arts establishment tells them that it's fantastic.
    What on earth is that "Deflated Brown" all about?

  • Comment number 44.

    surely the idea of the age limit is to encourage and support artists who are in the earlier stages of their career to continue by providing them with the money to do so - so how about limiting it to those who have only been working for 5 years or so?


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