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15 December 2010

Lest we forget the Turner Prize.

Monday December the 6th saw Susan Philipsz become the 2010 Turner Prize winner. The fourth female artist to win the Prize (but, alas, not where this debate is going today) and also the first sound artist to win the prize.

The annual art prize hosted by the Tate is now in its 26th year and still attracts a lot of attention from visitors and media alike, often promoting debate and in past years causing controversy (like the now infamous year Tracey Emin's 'Bed' was on show in 1999). In the past it seemed that the prize was an annual event in which the 'Is this art?' debate would once again brought into the public arena via the media. However in recent years the controversy, it seems, has died down, at least in terms of the way the prize is covered in the press. I wonder if the 'Is it art debate?' is truly old old now and if perhaps the question isn't so much about accepting if something can be art, but instead is about asking, why and how the art was made?

Speaking from an art background myself, I don't think I've ever found the Turner Prize to be more 'controversial' or spark any more debate than any other contemporary art I may have seen around the same time. I'd always thought that that in a way questioning and challenging the viewer to think was the whole point of art in the first place? Although, this opinion aside, in terms of how the Prize is portrayed in the media it seems like either one of two things is happening; either we as a Nation viewing art have become more 'used to' or accepting of contemporary art. Are we more adjusted to the potential of walking into an art gallery with the expectation that we could see a sawed in half cow, or piano suspending from the ceiling, or a room full of seeds? Or, is, like some people have written, it that the Turner Prize just not as exciting as in past years? And if so, why? In terms of contemporary art there are definitely plenty of exciting, fresh and poignant artists working, if you want proof take a look at the artists mentioned in my Liverpool Biennial blog and even in the not as media centred world of Somerset I have had the pleasure of seeing work by artists who are certainly working with exciting mediums and ideas in their practices.

Back to the point though, I think maybe the real problem the Turner Prize faces is expectation itself. If we always expect it to be controversial, contemporary, political, funny, outrageous, weird, moving or any number of things it has been in the past, we can only be left disappointed. The prize offers only a chunk of what the bigger art picture has to offer. What its legacy as a prize has left however, has given us some artists like Grayson Perry, Chris Ofili, Anya Gallaccio and so many more. Perhaps without the prize we'd have ended up finding these artists anyway through other awards or exhibitions, but the Turner Prize above all others does have a catalyst-like affect in making artists rise to fame more quickly.

It may be true that audiences are becoming increasingly more difficult to surprise or shock (if those things matter in your practice) but it also means that people are more accepting and willing to understand and read into art. All of this hypothetical type of speculation makes me interested to see how the Turner Prize will evolve in the way its chooses the four artists up for nomination each year? And, perhaps more interestingly in what ways will artists continue to invent and re-invent new art works that continue the debate ever onwards? Too much, to talk about on here, but definitely one reason why, personally myself, am always interested in the Turner Prize, because like all good art, whether 'technically/conceptually' good or not, it always makes you think.

(above) Susan Philipsz original location in Glasgow for the sound installation 'Lowlands' This year's winner of the Turner Prize

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