After this year’s Turner Prize nominees (Susan Philipsz, Dexter Dalwood, Angela de la Cruz and the Otolith Group, if you didn’t know already) were announced this morning, I naturally fired up Google and had a read through some of the recent articles that have been published on the four artists’ work. I’ve always been a little ambivalent about the Prize, not always convinced that the shortlist really represents the best talent available, but similarly skeptical about the voices of reaction that tend to drown out most sensible discussion of the works involved. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: Turner naysayers complain that the Prize doesn’t live up to its stated intention of creating national debate around contemporary art, while simultaenously burying what little debate does get started under mounds of myopic, knee-jerk bullshit. Certainly, you can sympathise with Adrian Searle’s assertion in today’s article that this year’s shortlist is ‘half baked’. But his argument seems cheapened by some of the comments below it: ‘Another annual trip down Banality Road. Turner Prize winners are like Oscar winning films, at best mediocre to the more memorable, lamentable and the utterly forgettable. Can anyone remember last years winner, never mind the year before?’ writes petrifiedprozac.You don’t need to even glance at the shortlist to make a judgement like that. S/he could probably recycle this comment year after year and no-one would be any the wiser.
But the prize for most meaningless criticism goes to fellow Comment is Free user adie9. Under an earlier Searle piece, this one about de la Cruz’s ongoing solo show at Camden Arts Centre, s/he remarks:
‘pity the poor reviewer, wasting his life attempting to breathe significance into a form of ‘art’ long since exposed for what it is.’
The idea that a group of sculptures publically exhibited could be ontologically ‘unexposed’ is patently ridiculous, even without the knowledge that, in Romance languages at least, the words ‘exhibition’ and ‘expose’ share a common root (Spanish: exposición, French: exposition, Portuguese: exposição etc. etc. etc.). Still, the anti-Turner loyalists probably derive as much pleasure from this apparent ‘unveiling’ of how most contemporary art is so much bullshit as we do from ‘demonstrating’ how it actually means a great deal. I’d be happy to let them have their fun, if only they didn’t outnumber us so overwhelmingly. But who am I to dictate? My only real hope is that we as a nation never again sink so low as the ‘debate’ embedded above, surely the nadir of recent British arts commentary.
And, for what it’s worth, I back Susan Philipsz.
by Luke Healey