Letter: The Turner needs more than slick quotations in rice

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The Independent Online
Sir: Gordon Burn suggests that the public is privy to the art process in the work of Turner Prize nominee, Vong Phaophanit ('Why so hard to swallow?', 10 November). Mr Burn quotes Duchamp, who referred to the artist as a 'mediumistic being' who was only partly responsible for the work of art.

The spectator completes the process by the acceptance or rejection of the work. There is therefore also a suggestion that the uproar surrounding Phaophanit's work is partly our fault, due to our non-receptiveness. In Richard Wentworth's opinion, we, the public, are threatened by Phaophanit's individual act and his use of commonplace objects in art. He reinforces this particular use of his medium by quoting Claes Oldenburg and his cry for art . . . that is smoked, like a cigarette, smells, like a pair of shoes. I am for an art that flaps like a flag, or helps blow noses, like a handkerchief. I am for an art that is put on and taken off, like pants, which develops holes, like socks, which is eaten, like a piece of pie, or abandoned with great contempt, like a piece of shit.

First of all, if Phaophanit's work is indeed that of an individual, this does not immediately qualify him as a major artist. The work in question, his Neon Rice Field, is not the original piece of avant-garde art the Tate Gallery would like us to believe it is. It is a slick collection of quotations from past movements, notably minimalism and conceptualism, with a dash of Phaophanit's exotic background dressing it up to be something more political and significant.

Second, to quote Oldenburg is fine, but his use of the commonplace as a medium produces witty and exciting work to look at and there is just not the same mental or visual engagement with Phaophanit's work.

If the public is to be open to receiving art, then the artist must make a step in the public's direction. The public is not a blank wall. Good art must be not only original but also mentally and visually engaging and not just a collection of slick quotations.

Yours sincerely,


London, SW10