Right of Reply: Dr Virginia Button, exhibition curator of the annual Turner Prize at the Tate Gallery, responds to the critics who attack it

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The Independent Culture

'The Turner Prize is fun for some, a setback for others, an irritation for many, an irrelevance for most.' William Feaver, Observer.

'The event has become a sort of national game, a gladiatorial contest of aesthetes, professional and amateur.' Christian Tyler, FT.

'What would the Turner Prize be without its annual battle of prejudices?' David Lister, Independent.

'This year's Aunt Sally is Rachel Whiteread, who specialises in making plaster casts of everyday objects, although Phaophanit's controversial rice sculpture is also attracting flak.' William Cook, The Scotsman.

'It is essentially the private affair of the Patrons of New Art, a clique-claque of rich and silly people perfectly entitled to give their money to a performing flea if they so choose.' Brian Sewell, Evening Standard.

'I can't go on wishing that the Turner Prize were terminated, but I'll go on . . . I can't go on drifting off during the TV coverage, but I'll go on . . . I can't go on confusing the TP with the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and the Eurovision Song Contest, but I'll go on . . . I can't go on going on about it, but I'll go on . . .' James Hall, Guardian.


'The Turner Prize was initiated in 1984 by the Patrons of New Art, a group which exists to support the collection of contemporary art by the Tate Gallery, who recognised that art in Britain is often misunderstood: Turner was dismissed by many of his contemporaries as a talentless fraud.

The purpose of the Prize is, therefore not only to celebrate significant developments in contemporary art, but to bring new art to wider public attention and to stimulate serious critical debate. We're not impervious to all the criticisms, and some of them have substance. But we get the 'bricks phenomenon' each year, where art is seen as a phenomenon or a spectacle rather than creative innovation. We are trying to represent a broader church of work.

During the first few years the prize was awarded for 'the greatest contribution to art in Britain', which implied that anyone working in the art world - curators, critics, administrators - were eligible: in 1988 it was limited to artists only. After a lapse in 1990 the prize was reinstated with the sponsorship of Channel 4, now focused on awarding 'a British artist under 50 for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work' over the preceding 12 months. This acknowledged the difficulty of comparing the achievements of artists ranging in age from 30 to 70, and cast off the idea of the prize as recognition of an entire career.

The Turner Prize can't cover all that is important in contemporary British art. However, the prize is awarded by members of a jury whose personal enthusiasms are tempered by the need to take an objective overview of developments in contemporary art.'

(Photograph omitted)