Works the critics knew they didn't like

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The Independent Online
Britain is to have its first national museum of modern art, and the art world is rejoicing, writes Marianne Macdonald. But no one knows better than Nicholas Serota, the Tate's powerful director, that detractors will be waiting in the wings.

There is little that attracts such virulent criticism as the purchase of cutting-edge modern art works by national galleries - funded by the taxpayer - and the Tate has been the main target. But that was just for the main gallery at Millbank, whose huge holdings include vast numbers of accepted masters - Constable, Gainsborough, Picasso, Henry Moore. Now the Tate has won half of the pounds 106m funding for its Gallery of Modern Art at the former Bankside power station, decommissioned in 1981, it is likely to face more violent controversy over its purchases.

The most notorious instance of public loathing for a Tate acquisition was the "pile of bricks", which provoked both hilarity and controversy when it was bought for pounds 6,000 in 1972. Otherwise known as Equivalent VIII by Carl Andre, the bricks became a symbol of all that critics see as pointless and ludicrous in radical modern art.

Later, the Turner Prize, run by the Tate, became the focus of opprobrium for the school of art lovers who may not know much about art, but know what they like.

This year, the shortlist of four artists includes Mark Wallinger, 36, who had bought a racehorse the previous year and designated it art by the simple expedient of naming it A Real Work of Art. Also on the list is Damien Hirst, the artist who attracted public attention largely through his so-called dead sheep. Away From The Flock, to give it its official title, consisted of a lamb suspended in formaldehyde in a glass case. This became the subject of an unexpected artistic contribution when Mark Bridger, a part-time teacher, emptied black ink into the case while it was on display at the Serpentine Gallery in London. He was found guilty of criminal damage but given a conditional discharge in August last year after telling magistrates: "I understood the sculptor was intending to focus on mortality. I was in a carpe diem frame of mind."

Another work of art by Laos-born Vong Phaophanit, one of the four artists shortlisted for the 1993 Turner Prize, also attracted vandalism. His Neon Rice Field, consisting of seven tons of rice, was broken when a young woman threw flowers into it as it went on display at the Tate in November that year.

Other objectors pointed out that the work used enough rice to feed an African village for a month. But Dr Virginia Button, exhibition curator, promised that the rice would be re-milled and sold after the winner was announced. The winner turned out to be Rachel Whiteread - whose cast of a derelict House was labelled a "disaster in plaster" and later demolished by Tower Hamlets Council.

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