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Turner Prize: Stuckist Reaction

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1 December demo: Steven Yates, Charles Thomson, Jane Kelly, Shelley Li, Edgeworth Johnstone

By Charles Thomson.

They ought to remake Downfall with Sir Nicholas Serota in his Tate office, surrounded by curators aghast at the sustained fantasies of their leader in the face of all the evidence. Serota is a master of external self-control, but he is also – despite rumours to the contrary – a man of deep feeling, which he is unable to negate. It was quite obvious that he was gutted. About what one can only surmise. Certainly the overwhelming opinion of the critics about this year’s show was that it was crap – a vehement response from those who normally praise crap as consummate creativity.

The prize is Serota’s baby. He has nurtured it to what it is now – crap. But he was having none of it. No, indeed. “We are delighted to welcome the Turner Prize back to London from Liverpool,” he said with all the joy of someone just informed they had a terminal illness. “For more than twenty years the Turner Prize has brought the work of successive generations of British artists to a wide public.” It would be more accurate to say “certain types of British artists that I like”: it certainly doesn’t do much to bring the work of figurative painters to a wide public. What next? “It exists” (pause) “to promote discussion about contemporary art” (pause, followed by a modulation of the voice to a quieter tone of someone humbly stating a fact which he realises might have been missed by some of his listeners) “and it succeeds.”

It certainly succeeds in provoking a response, but I’m not quite so sure about promoting discussion. I stood outside all day for the eighth year of the Stuckist demo and the discussion from most of the visitors who commented to us was a somewhat peremptory “I agree with you” – sometimes adding, “It is crap”, the latter referring to the prominent slogan on one of our placards and distributed on a (very popular) button badge. Nevertheless, for Serota, “the show is as strong as any that I have seen”. As he says this every year, it indicates a PR stance lacking any value of judgement and is effectively meaningless. He may even believe it, but that just shows the last ditch and doomed triumph of the will over reality.

First posted: Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008.

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