Whatever happened to the Turner Prize?

Critics have panned the shortlist for the award that once epitomised the best of British contemporary art and say it's had its day. Andrew Johnson reports

From Chris Ofili's elephant dung painting to Tracey Emin's infamous unmade bed, the Turner Prize has consistently provoked controversy and criticism. Until now.

Despite a shortlist featuring a film about broken crockery, a mannequin sitting on a lavatory, a photo collage and an installation featuring, among other things, Felix the Cat, this year's prize, the winner of which will be announced tomorrow, has raised barely a murmur.

Critics have panned it as the "worst on record" and likened the exhibition at London's Tate Britain to an "afternoon spent in a Heathrow departure lounge". The standard of work showcased is so bad that some claim the future of the Turner Prize itself, regarded as one of the world's most prestigious contemporary art awards, is in question. The veteran art critic Brian Sewell has demanded a place on the judging jury to shake up the prize, while others have called for it to be scrapped altogether.

David Lee, editor of The Jackdaw magazine, said the prize, first awarded in 1984, is "dead in the water".

"This is the first time I haven't been in 24 years, so that tells you something," he said. "I wasn't that impressed with the shortlist. It's scraping the bottom of the barrel. In any generation there are only a handful of artists that are any good. Once they've won it, what are you going to do?

"It's becoming an embarrassment. I'm just tired of the mediocrity that's presented to us as though it's the acme of accomplishment."

Brian Sewell was equally scathing, accusing Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate who usually chairs the jury which chooses the winners, of trying too hard to be "cutting edge".

He said: "The prize is exhausted, so why keep it? They had all the top people in the first five years or so. That didn't work. So they turned it into a prize for British artists under 50.

"Nicholas Serota seems determined to find the new cutting edge, so judge and jury are chosen on the basis of the certainty that they will agree with who he thinks should be considered. Many of them don't see the exhibitions for which the artists have been nominated. It's a bit like British Leyland – you have to let it go when it doesn't work any more.

"They are so cowardly that they won't invite a juror who has to be convinced. They're all in agreement before they begin. Of course I would do it. It would be an opportunity to battle with Serota and his crew, to rock the boat at the Tate."

Not everyone thinks the prize has had its day. Mark Rappolt, editor of Art Review, praised this year's shortlist. "There's an expectation that it should be headline-grabbing," he said. "It's a really good spread of people who are interesting and consistent."

Sarah Thornton, author of Seven Days in the Art World, added: "The prize has become a benchmark of validation that distinguishes the British art scene.

"It's still an important platform for emerging artists, but whether they need to be under 50 is another matter. It might be interesting to throw in a year in which all the nominees were over 60. It might be worth playing with the rules to re-energise the prize."

And Matthew Collings, the broadcaster who has presented Channel 4's coverage of the Turner Prize, said: "It's always pretty ridiculous. As a society we accept the nonsense as part of cultural fun. The line-up this year is no more idiotic than usual."

A spokeswoman for the Tate added: "Its purpose has always been to promote discussion of contemporary British art. With more than 60,000 visitors to the 2008 exhibition since it opened two months ago, and thousands of responses left in our comments room, the public are as engaged as ever in the debate about the Turner Prize and contemporary art generally."

The 2008 Shortlist: Does anyone care?This year's contenders

Mark Leckey Critics' favourite Leckey, 44, from Birkenhead, is nominated for his exhibition 'Industrial Light and Magic'. He combines film, sculpture and performance – and Felix the Cat.

Runa Islam Born in Bangladesh but lives in London, Islam, 38, is nominated for 'Centre of Gravity'. She works in film; her show at the Tate shows women smashing crockery.

Cathy Wilkes Glasgow-based Wilkes was born in 1966 in Belfast. Her mannequin on a lavatory is perhaps this year's most famous image.

Goshka Macuga Polish-born Macuga, 41, uses works by other artists in her installations of 'found' objects, such as 'Different Sky (Rain)'.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor