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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK
Madonna: Turner's perfect choice
By arts correspondent Rosie Millard

So Madonna it is. The announcement that the diva of pop and arguably the most famous persona currently residing in the UK is to present the Turner Prize at Tate Britain this year should surprise no-one.

While Madge has become gradually more British, the Turner itself has gradually grown more international.

Madonna
Madonna went to the opening of Tate Britain
Its presenters have moved slowly but surely through the ranks of home grown personalities George Melly and Joan Bakewell to the likes of multinational fashionistas Agnes B and Paul Smith.

Its style has gone from village dog show with warm wine attended by almost no-one to global trophy, with live coverage on national television and tickets for the formal dinner changing hands on the black market for hundreds of pounds.

But to claim Madonna is surely the prize.

Just think how the prizes Booker, Whitbread and Jerwood, not to mention the Oliviers, must be feeling.

Never before has Britain's two-tier arts segregation system been so clearly demarcated.

Literature is worthy, but dull, symbolised by Lord Baker, chair of this years' Booker.

Theatre is worthy, sometimes exciting (especially if Mark Ravenhill has something to do with it), but essentially parochial. Stephen Fry is probably its biggest name.

Chutzpah

But contemporary art, which has been totally reinvented by the Young British Artist brigade and given permanent stature by the vast and seemingly world-conquering Tate Modern, knows no boundaries.

Work No. 220: Don't Worry 2000 by Martin Creed
Work No. 220: Don't Worry 2000 by Martin Creed
It's not only the chutzpah of "let's invite Madonna", but the fact that Madonna, who more than anyone, knows the brand importance of whose dance card to tick, has accepted the challenge, which is so revealing.

Of course Madonna knows her onions about the art world - she's been collecting art from British galleries for years.

Interestingly, she turned up to the opening of Tate Britain, rather than Tate Modern last year.

So what of the artists who are on the shortlist for this year's prize - Mssrs M Creed, I Julien, R Billingham and M Nelson?

Before Madonna signed up to the Turner gig the most noteworthy thing most people had to say about the shortlist of four was that Martin Creed exhibits small pieces of Blu Tac.

He also allegedly once sent a crumpled up ball of paper to the office of fastidious Tate director Nick Serota, only to have it returned, carefully smoothed out.

Global force

Will they be overlooked by the blinding sheer force of celebrity exuded by M Ciccione when she steps up to give them the cheque for 20,000? Probably.

Will they care? Unlikely.

Continuous looped video projection of Playstation 1999, by Richard Billingham
Richard Billingham's work is a looped video projection
The Turner is now such a global force that merely to be in the running for it is a phenomenal career enhancement.

Mike Nelson, whose show has just opened at the ICA, had an enormous installation in Venice for this year's Bienalle.

Wandering round the 19 or so Nelson "rooms" at the press view was a little group comprising David Furnish and high-end dealer Jay Jopling.

Getting the Turner tick makes artists hot. Having Madonna present the prize merely makes them hotter.

Yet no-one would say any of these artists were easy.

Phenomenon

Nelson's intricate, life-size installations give very little away. Creed's jokey art works are even less explicable.

Richard Billingham's photographs document a family sliding well down the scree slope of social decline, and Isaac Julien's films are equally uncompromising.

The extraordinary thing about the British art phenomenon is that it has somehow managed to maintain its high-end artyness, while welcoming popular culture in with open arms.

Julien Opie designs a Blur album. Tracey Emin advertises Vivienne Westwood. Damien Hirst appears on Top of the Pops.

Five million people visit Tate Modern in its first year. And now Madonna presents the Turner Prize.

It is simply too perfect.

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