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Wednesday, 30 May, 2001, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
Don't worry, it's Blu-tac

Arts correspondent Rosie Millard dissects this year's Turner Prize shortlist and says yes, it is art.

So now we have Blu-tac to contend with. And a flashing neon sign saying Don't Worry.

And a scrumpled-up ball of paper, which if the rumour is to be believed, the artist once sent in a hopeful moment to the Tate Gallery, only to have it returned neatly unfolded in a first-class envelope.

Is it art? Of course. Is it this year's Turner Prize shortlist? Naturally.

In a decade, the Turner Prize has moved from village prize-giving to the trophy of the art world.

So no wonder that today's announcement of the shortlist has been presaged by column inches in the papers, and followed up by more newsprint in the national press.

Forget the once-mighty Booker; the Turner has taken over as the ultimate art prize.

Isaac Julien's work The Road to Mazatlan
It had to happen - it suits our age. As the director of Tate, Sir Nicholas Serota once said: "I can take someone off the street and explain the Turner shortlist to them in about five minutes. You can't do that with novels."

So who are the lucky four artists whose every move will now be scrutinised avidly until the black-tie splashy prize giving in December?

In no particular order, they are:

  • Richard Billingham, whose series of excoriating photographs of his family life were easily the most shocking thing in Sensation!

  • minimalist prankster Martin Creed, author of the Blu Tac and scrumpled up ball of paper

  • opulent film maker Isaac Julien

  • Mike Nelson whose vast, messy installations comprising of myriad rooms were one of the most interesting things about the recent British Art Show.

Art lovers will have heard of some, if not all of this quartet; the general public will, most probably, have not.

Don't Worry, by Martin Creed
Creed by name, creed by nature
No matter. When the Turner Prize exhibition opens at Tate Britain in the autumn thousands of people will pour into the Tate to have a gawp.

It is probably the only arts award ceremony I know of where the contestants are usually unknown, yet the contest is universally discussed.

Not like the Oscars, where the films in the contest are already household favourites, or Cannes, where the competition films have yet to be released and even when they are, will have a long way to go before they will ever become water cooler conversation topics in the office.

No mistaking, the Turner Prize is something which still draws comment even from the uninitiated.

The themes this year? Pedants will note that there are no women, and no painters on the shortlist.

Too bad, says the unrepentant Serota, who inherited the Turner when he became director of the Tate Gallery.

Frankly, the Turner is such a flashpoint now that any list he and the jury invents will cause some controversy or other.

Playstation 1999, by Richard Billingham
Playstation 1999, by Richard Billingham
Serota is long used to this. Under his nurturing, he has seen the Turner grow from something which the first prizewinner, artist Malcolm Morley, did not even bother turning up to collect, into something which has caused nervous breakdowns for artists who then failed to scoop it.

Tracey Emin has declared it not worth having - well she would, wouldn't she? She and her unmade bed didn't win a couple of years ago.

Even Damien Hirst, runner-up in 1992, had to come back for a second round in 1995 when his extraordinarily moving Mother And Child Divided caused unprecedented crowds at the Tate and gave him the 20,000 award.

Looking back over the list of artists, winners and nominees both, its clear that the Turner Prize is still more than a piece of sensationalism.

The Turner has given us Damien's cows in formaldehyde, Mona Hatoum's camera through her body, the "copied" picture by Glenn Brown from the cover of a sci-fi paperback, Wolfgang Tillman's crotch shots, Rachel Whiteread's plaster cast of a house, Vong Phaophanit's trickles of rice, Gary Hume's gorgeous poster paint, Gillian Wearing's silent lineup of policemen. Or was it actors playing policemen?

Either way, the prize has drawn on fresh, interesting art and delivered it to us, the public, who would have probably missed it had it not come down trailing clouds of newsprint, bulletin pieces and invective into Tate Britain.

This year's show opens 7 November. My money's on the Blu-Tac.

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