The Turner Prize is “is intended to promote public discussion of new developments in contemporary British art.” And delighted as I am for this week’s winner Laure Prouvost, I search in vain for signs of this public discussion.
Yes, Ms Prouvost’s win was reported of course. The Turner Prize is such an established part of the arts calendar that it would take a brave newspaper, radio or TV station to ignore it. So Ms Prouvost had her moment in the Londonderry sun as did her baby which she brought up on stage when she received the award. That was all very nice. But precious little public discussion of contemporary art followed (or even preceded) the ceremony.
That is because Ms Prouvost is a rather fine conceptualist, and conceptualist installations have been discussed ad nauseam for 20 years, and there’s very little left to discuss. It is the norm in any number of galleries across the country. The prize has been an enormous success in changing the country’s view of art - in making us all more broad-minded in our acceptance of, and engagement with, different forms of art. So you could say “job done”.
Ah, but the organisers of prizes in the arts don’t like to say “job done”. Take the Orange (latterly the Baileys) Prize for fiction written by women, aiming to achieve more recognition for female novelists. As I have argued several times in this column in the past, the best-seller lists are so often dominated by women now that it’s hard to discern quite what the battle is for any longer. Indeed, with the latest Costa Book Prize award for best novel boasting an all-female shortlist, you might think that the organisers would think this he right moment to claim victory and call time.
It’s a risky strategy, starting a prize with a specific objective. You might just do rather well, and achieve that objective. Then what do you do, when you have become accustomed to the publicity, the parties and the high level of attention and glamour that such prizes attract? It must be hard to let go.
One solution is that you keep the prize but change the objective. The Orange/Baileys Prize, having achieved parity and more in fiction, could turn its attention to art forms where women are still badly under-represented – film-directing, for example.
The Turner is the more difficult case. There is an argument that it could become a prize for painting - the poorer relation in contemporary art. But maybe it should simply acknowledge that the nation sees conceptualism as part of the cultural landscape and is no longer surprised or shocked by it. Discussion of new developments comes as naturally as discussion of new films. No artificial spur is needed. It doesn’t have to be “promoted” any more. The Tate, which started and still runs the prize, needs to find a new set of objectives for it. Alternatively, it can bask in the success of a job done, a mission accomplished and make next year’s 30th anniversary Turner Prize the last.
The art of Tate Britain's PR
Hats off to the wonderful renovation and redevelopment job that has been done at Tate Britain, making it one of the most welcoming as well as most fascinating galleries in the country. I also take my hat off to Tate Britain’s innovative use of PR. Its publicity material, which was widely reported, made much of the fact that Tate Britain had reopened its main entrance on Millbank overlooking the Thames. This is true. But it’s also true that it was the Tate Britain management that closed it for the renovation. To close an entrance and then boast how you have opened it again as part of a masterplan may be claiming just a bit too much credit.
Respect the rock
I thought I was being tongue-in-cheek last week in saying that there should be sign at rock gigs urging people not to talk to their mates all night. But reader Peter Rose has emailed me to point out that the late lamented rock venue the Luminaire in north-west London actually did have a sign saying almost exactly that. The sign reminded gig-goers: “Nobody paid to come here and listen to you talk to your mates”. As they say, you can’t make it up. However hard you might try.