PRINT September 1997

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the Turner Prize

WHEN MALCOLM MORLEY was awarded the first Turner Prize in 1984, the British public complained it had never heard of him; in 1987, when I was on the jury, the fan clubs of Patrick Caulfield and of Richard Long made it quite clear that the winner, Richard Deacon, was the wrong choice; and when Damien Hirst scooped the prize two years ago, it was called by a leading daily paper “an odious and disgusting scandal.” Turner Prize-bashing is an annual event and this year is no exception. Instigated and run by the Tate Gallery’s Patrons of New Art, the prize is awarded, in the Museum’s words, to “a British artist under 50 for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work” in the twelve months preceding the early June announcement of the shortlist. Before the winner is announced on December 2, work by the nominees will be shown in a special display at the Tate (October 29 to January 18, 1998).

The surprise of the 1997 shortlist is not that all four nominees are women—that might have been expected after the press reaction to last year’s all-male lineup—but the choice of artists: Cornelia Parker, Angela Bulloch, Gillian Wearing, and Christine Borland. None is yet a household name and though all four have persuasive credentials, other names were more widely touted for consideration by this year’s judges. For example, both Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin enjoyed full-scale exposure and considerable acclaim, within the allotted time-span. And this year people are upset that there is no painter among the four, as though putting paint to canvas is somehow an inherently more serious, more salutary way of making art than object-based installation or video. Nonetheless, it is true that not one of the excellent British painters shortlisted in recent years—from Fiona Rae and Gary Hume to Peter Doig and Ian Davenport—has been given the prize money (a hefty £20,000).

The judges this year represent quite a crosssection—from curators and writers to editorsand collectors. There is the young Penelope Curtis of the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, who specializes in twentieth-century sculpture and cut her teeth working for the Liverpool Tate Gallery; the American-born Marina Vaizey, writer and onetime art critic of the Sunday Times; Jack Wendler, another American-born British resident, a veteran collector and publisher of Art Monthly and the panel representative of the Patrons of New Art; Lars Nittve, the highly regarded director of the Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen, this year’s panelist from abroad; and Nicholas Serota, who as director of the Tate is chairman of the jury.

My own preference at the moment is for Gillian Wearing’s tragicomic videos and photographs revealing the restless underbelly of suburban living, the plangent need of “ordinary” people—nearly all of them, of course, extraordinary—to confess their anxiety and courage, all conveyed with simplicity and wit.

An associate editor at The Burlington Magazine, Richard Shone recently authored the main catalogue essay for “Sensations,” a show of works from the Saatchi Collection opening this month at the Royal Academy of Arts.