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Wednesday, 1 December, 1999, 19:45 GMT
Steve McQueen: A critique
Tracey Emin Tracey Emin's My Bed work had been the favourite to win

by David Lee, editor of Art Review

The Turner Prize could not have been won by a nicer fellow than film-maker Steve McQueen.

Given the blanket coverage roused by beaten front-runner Tracey Emin's in-yer-face stubborn stains, it is an irony that the prize should have gone to an artist who avoided publicity and let his work speak for itself...but that is where the problem starts.

Steve McQueen Steve McQueen: Homage to Buster Keaton
McQueen is neither better nor worse than many artists who try their hand at a spot of video, which means that his films are laughably pretentious and even more typical of the genre in that they take an eternity to impart nothing worth hearing.

His much discussed and praised piece based on Buster Keaton is as flagrant an example of plagiarism as you will find in any art gallery and succeeds only in polluting the memory of a comic masterpiece.

McQueen's two other entries are unwatchable for those raised on the efforts of professional filmmakers, to the extent that one wonders what qualities the adjudicators perceived in them.

The judges' bluster about Epoetry and the other all-purpose drivel they trotted out in defence of their choice is unhelpful to those of us who remain bewildered.

It would have been educative for the entire nation to have been flies on the wall of the Tate director's office when the judges were deliberating.

We would have learned the criteria used for judging such work and not have had to take on trust the mindles paeans uttered by those snake oil salesmen from the Tate's Department of Interpretation.

As it is we are none the wiser.

Artistic licence
Last year's Turner Prize winner, Chris Ofili, used elephant dung in his painting
Damien Hirst won the prize in 1997 for displaying the severed halves of a cow and calf in formaldehyde
Artist Tony Kaye tried to submit a homeless steel worker for the prize
Is it art? It might be but it does not look like it to me because McQueen's work is so visually unexacting and fails to add up to more than the sum of its parts, which surely always plays a prominent part in good art.

It is in no sense visually alluring, beautiful or memorable and, in the end, we must take it on trust, like the blind faith of starry-eyed disciples, that the experts are right in proclaiming his films to be the acme of accomplishment in contemporary British art.

Unless, of course, we choose to be impertinent and ask for a second opinion.

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See also:
14 Nov 99 |  Entertainment
Art award under fire
25 Oct 99 |  Wales
Housewife 'outraged' by dirty bed exhibit
24 Oct 99 |  UK
Feathers fly at art show
20 Oct 99 |  UK
The Turner Prize draw
02 Dec 98 |  Entertainment
Elephant dung artist scoops award
03 Jun 99 |  Entertainment
True confessions and coming clean
04 Oct 99 |  Americas
Sensation: Critics give mixed response

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