LETTER: Not just our concept

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The Independent Culture
Sir: How sad that Chris Smith, our grandly entitled Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, should have felt the need to try his hand at the popular British bloodsport of bashing conceptual art ("Minister of First Nights turns into a regular critic", 15 November).

As an art critic who has travelled to many of the big international exhibitions of the past decade or so, can I disillusion Smith of the fantasy that what we are watching is what you call "the branding of Britain abroad by conceptualist shock troops".

Conceptual art is neither a British invention nor a British speciality. You should see what they produce in Taiwan. Or Zagreb. At the last Venice Biennale, Britain's contribution stood out precisely because every other exhibiting nation showed "conceptual art", while the British pavilion featured the work of a painter, Gary Hulme.

The truth is that young artists the world over have turned their back on painting and sculpture. It may not last. It may be undesirable. It isn't to everyone's taste. But it is happening. And for the Turner Prize to cover up this inconvenient (for some) development by packing its short- lists with unrepresentative artists would be dishonest.

Besides, the Turner Prize is not the only prize in town. There already exist several major awards for painting. It is not the fault of conceptual art that the British public and its newspapers appear entirely uninterested in them.


London N6