Leading Article: The Tate's bizarre art of attraction

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The Independent Culture
YES, THE Turner prize's entries include, and have included, everything from dung and bricks to preserved sheep. And yes, it has seemed more concerned with video performances and bits and pieces tied together than with art as the man in the street, or the visitor to the nation's galleries, would recognise it.

None the less, the fact is that the Turner Prize has added to the gaiety of the nation in one of the areas of culture where Britain is now paramount: contemporary visual arts. And this year it has shown the work of a first- class group of artists with a winner, in the 29-year-old Chris Ofili, worthy of that reputation. The point that the critics of Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate, have missed is that the occasion is not a judgement of greatness. From that point of view, to win the Turner does not equate with the grand international awards at the Venice Biennale. What the Turner Prize has succeeded in doing is to show where some of the action in modern art is taking place, and to display what at least a few artists are up to as they challenge past conventions and redefine, as every generation must do, the terms of their craft. More, Serota has managed to involve the public in these avant-garde actions. Their noses may be turned up, their eyes popped, but the numbers going to such exhibtions are impressive by any standards. And they are excited by it.

The Tate can be criticised for confining its choice to a small range of London artists. But then London is at the cutting edge, not just of Britain but the world at present, with a flowering of galleries and art schools more prestigious than New York's. Most of the work displayed will probably prove ephemeral. But that may be true of much of contemporary art. But a public gallery is doing its job entertaining and involving an audience. Good for the Tate.