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Wednesday, 30 May, 2001, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
Art world reacts to Turner list
Mike Nelson, Turner Prize nominee
Mike Nelson's mixed media work The Coral Reef 2000
Tate director Nicholas Serota has said the Turner Prize "is not designed to show the best artists or the greatest artists, but the art that people working together find extremely interesting at that time".

The shortlist of four artists - Richard Billingham, Martin Creed, Isaac Julien and Mike Nelson - announced on Wednesday has already led to much discussion about such definitions.

Karen Wright, editor of art quarterly Modern Painters, told BBC News Online she felt that the nominations were perpetuating only a sub-section of the British art world.

Richard Billingham, Turner Prize nominee
Detail from Liz Smoking, a video by Richard Billingham
"The first thing you notice is: no painters, no women," she said.

"I've nothing against the artists nominated - I quite like some of their work. But there's nothing that's here because someone's had a great year.

"The judges are appointed by the patrons of new art - not by the Tate - and I don't think this is well known.


"The only qualification you need to be a patron is a big bank balance.

"The prize still has some credibility, but only in the 'institutional' art world - the Jerwood Prize is looking more interesting now."

David Lee, editor of art journal The Jackdaw, has long been a scathing critic of certain aspects of the contemporary art world.

But he had some conciliatory words for the Turner Prize.

"Though I'm an opponent of the Turner Prize philosophy it does get people talking about 'what is art?'" he told BBC News Online.

Isaac Julien, Turner Prize nominee
Detail from DVD projection Vagabondia 2000 by Isaac Julien
"Never has contemporary art been as avidly discussed as now, so the Prize has been good in that sense."

But Mr Lee said he was disappointed by the nominations themselves.

"When Nick Serota announced the shortlist last year it seemed we'd had enough of Young British Artists.

'Heavily promoted'

"But then you look at this year. Richard Billingham was in Sensations, is also collected by Charles Saatchi - so no change there.

"Martin Creed is not a great artist - but he's been heavily promoted, and I said a few weeks back, 'If Martin Creed is not on the shortlist I'll eat my hat'."

He continued: "The other two I haven't heard of but I believe they come from the 'right' area of art.

"The shortlist follows on from last year - when they were already scraping the barrel.

"It comes from having to nominate 4 or 5 artists a year, when there are only one or two great artists per generation."

"It's all a bit tired," said Mr Lee, "but unfortunately this is the prize for the area of contemporary art which has been institutionalised by the state, so it's unchangeable."

Sarah Kent, art editor for London lifestyle magazine Time Out disputes the idea that the Turner Prize represents an "institutional" or prejudiced attitude to art.

Martin Creed, Turner Prize nominee
Detail from Don't Worry 2000 by Martin Creed
"There's a conspiracy argument that it's not based on judgement, but in vested interests. I think that's nonsense," she told BBC News Online.

"The Turner Prize judges are in a double bind.

"Last year's nominations produced little controversy, but not much interest either - there wasn't much to get angry about.

"And the Turner Prize shortlist should make people angry."


But Ms Kent did express concern about the list that emerged.

"My first reaction is that they are all men, which makes me angry for a different reason - they have resolutely given the prize to men, even when women have been shortlisted."

What does seem clear is that a shortlist consisting of a film-maker, two installation artists and a photographer is likely to re-open arguments about what contemporary art actually is.

In that, at least, the 2001 nominations are serving their purpose.

See also:

30 May 01 | Arts
Vote: Turner Prize
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