A transvestite, mouldy potatoes and war. It's Turner time again

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The Independent Online

Should the Culture minister Kim Howells choose to repeat his criticism of the Turner prize this year as "cold, mechanical, conceptual bullshit'' he will do nothing to slow the juggernaut of interest in what its critics decry as the artworld's annual freak show.

Grayson Perry, a transvestite multimedia artist, whose work includes a depiction of an emasculated pit bull terrier, and the Chapman brothers, who have exhibited sexually mutated child mannequins, were on the shortlist announced yesterday by the Turner prize jury.

The other finalists were named at Tate Britain in London as Willie Doherty, a photography and video artist from Londonderry whose work is rooted in the Northern Ireland conflict, and Anya Gallaccio, a Scottish-born sculptor who specialises in ephemeral materials such as flowers and fruit.

The prize is awarded each December to a British artist under the age of 50 for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in a 12-month period up to the previous May. The artists are then invited to put a piece on display in the Turner prize exhibition.

Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate and a member of the Turner jury, said: "They are four artists working in four very different ways. All are in their mid-thirties or early forties. This is not a Turner prize devoted to the newest of the new, the youngest of the young.''

But in anticipation of the annual controversy surrounding the prize, Stephen Deuchar, director of Tate Britain, pleaded with critics to exercise caution. He said: "When you attack the shortlist this year, look before you leap to conclusions.''

Mr Deuchar said the prize had brought 70 artists to wider public attention. "Love it or hate it, it's pilloried but also imitated. I think the Turner prize does matter," he said. Past winners include Damien Hirst, Antony Gormley and Rachel Whiteread.

The public will again have the opportunity to express its views about the works on the Tate's website or notice-boards at the gallery. Mr Howells made his brutal observations on one of the notice-boards last year.

Mr Serota said 150 people had been nominated by the public or the jury for the prize, fewer than in some years. But he was not disheartened by the level of interest. "I don't think it's especially disappointing. We have had more in some years but that has been when we've had a media partner and they have encouraged nominations.''

The best known of the short-listed artists are Jake and Dinos Chapman. Katherine Stout, Tate assistant curator, said they were "well known for their consistent ability to confound and shock their audience''. The Chapmans came to prominence in the early Nineties with their three-dimensional re-creations of Goya's series of etchings, The Disasters of War.

Their 1996 work Tragic Anatomies, showed a group of sexually mutated child mannequins, naked except for Nike trainers and sprouting genitalia from unlikely places.

Earlier this year, they returned to Goya, committing what the jurors described as "the ultimate artistic taboo'' by desecrating the work of the Spanish master by doctoring his prints with hand-painted cartoon heads.

Perry, 43, is best known for ceramics but works in many media, often producing images of himself or his transvestite alter ego, Claire.

Doherty, 44, was also shortlisted in 1994. Andrew Wilson, one of the jurors, said that to appreciate Doherty's work one had to understand the "duality'' of his home city, with its two names of Derry and Londonderry reflecting its religious and political divide.

Gallaccio, 39, is hoping to be the first female winner of the Turner prize since Gillian Wearing in 1997. One of her early works featured a 34-ton ice cube, which melted, helped by a ball of rock salt in its core. Her more recent work features living things such as potatoes.

Last night, Mr Howells said he imagined viewing the exhibition may be difficult this year. The shortlist had been "drawn up by the same people". The minister said a move away from the "snotty" approach was needed, adding: "If they are serious about opening up art for debate they ought to have a very, very different attitude."

Referring to the Chapman brothers, he said: "I wouldn't call them great artists."

The exhibition will open to the public at Tate Britain on 29 October and the winner will be announced on 7 December.

The short-listed artists

Jake and Dinos Chapman

Brothers and graduates of the Royal College of Art in London. Dinos was born in London in 1962 and Jake in Cheltenham four years later. Appropriating material from art history and consumer culture alike, they are known for desecrating Goya prints with cartoon heads and creating an apocalyptic vision from a tableau of 5,000 Nazi figurines. Their more recent work includes carved mock-tribal figures featuring the McDonald's logo.

Willie Doherty

Hugely influenced by his upbringing in Londonderry, Doherty, 44, has incorporated the tensions of his home city into his photographic and video work. He has moved into more universal themes and is known for his 2002 piece Re-Run, which shows a man running on a bridge in an eternal loop, never reaching his destination.

Anya Gallaccio

One of the leading British sculptors of her generation, Gallaccio, 39, trained at Goldsmiths' College, London. She uses ephemeral objects to demonstrate her fascination with time, which means her works rarely survive long.

Grayson Perry

Perry, 43, is best known for his ceramics. His subject matter is often dark and autobiographical but has been compared to Hogarth for its satirical qualities. Some of his best-known pieces feature his transvestite alter ego, Claire.