But the judges may inadvertently have created a larger controversy by cocking a snook at "shortlist correctness" and selecting a four-strong shortlist for the pounds 20,000 prize which does not include any women.
Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Gallery and chairman of the judges, said he and his colleagues were "surprised" when they realised there were no women on the list. Many women artists were producing impressive work and had been considered, he said.
"It may be that there was no single manifestation by a woman artist that quite caught the imagination of the jury. We didn't want to include someone just as a token made to some category, like under-25s or whatever." It is the first time in 10 years that the jury has selected an all-male shortlist. Some critics are already viewing the list as a "safe" one, which, if nothing else, shows that it is now accepted as the unremarkable norm for film, photography and installation pieces to represent the best of contemporary art.
The shortlist was denounced by Brian Sewell, art critic of the London Evening Standard. He said: "If the Turner Prize is trying to commit suicide by boring the pants off us, it is going the right way about it. These four are nobodies. They are not outrageous or a slap-in-the-face or whatever else Tate director Nicholas Serota wants to tell us, they are plain damned dull and boring."
The Glasgow-born artist Douglas Gordon, 29, produces work exploring memory and perception. His 24-hour Psycho, in which Alfred Hitchcock's thriller was projected on to an overhanging screen and slowed down to two frames a second, is intended "to destabilise the established meaning of films".
The photographer Craigie Horsfield, 46, turned to film and photography following his "dissatisfaction with contemporary painting's lack of engagement with reality". He chooses his works from hundreds of black and white negatives, including uneasy portraits of his wife, Ava. Horsfield claims we cannot live a moral life without acknowledging our fellow humans. "The acceptance of the other is probably the starting point of an ethical world," he said.
Gary Hume, 34, came to notice with a series of 30 apparently abstract paintings which were based on hospital doors. According to the Turner judges, "Hume had also recognised the potential of a subject hardly explored before in painting, and one not without resonance - to pass through the swing doors in a hospital might well be to pass from life to death . . ." Hume has since branched out into more recognisable images, including a portrait of the DJ Tony Blackburn.
Simon Patterson, 29, takes familiar systems like the London Underground map and subverts them, for instance by replacing station names with those of great philosophers or inventors. This process of displacement and contradiction is said to upset established functions and rationales.
William Hill bookmakers yesterday declared Patterson the 6-4 favourite for the prize.
Mr Serota said: "There are a relatively small number of British galleries that are in a position to mount substantial shows of modern art. In the 1960s David Hockney's work could be seen at a major exhibition in Manchester but local authorities no longer have the resources. I think that it means the British public is failing to be given opportunities to see the work of British artists."
But the public remained keen to see contemporary art, he maintained, and the doors of the Tate sometimes had to be closed at weekends last autumn because of the huge number of visitors to be Turner Prize exhibition, he said.
The exhibition will be mounted from 29 October to 12 January and the winner will be announced live on Channel 4 on 26 November.Reuse content