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Streets Of London: Show Me The Art

From The Streets of London with Malcolm Aitken

Show Me The Art

There’s a story that a friend of Sunday’s 2001 Turner Prize winner, artist Martin Creed, visited London’s Tate Britain art galleries three times and couldn’t find Creed’s celebrated work. Hardly surprising if he wasn’t aware that The Lights Going on And Off is an empty room…erm…with the lights going on and off, continually. For some minimalists there’s sheer brilliance in this creation of something from (almost) nothing. They praise its ‘daring’. But during the past week other British artists and critics have implied it’s ultra-minimalism gone mad, indicating a sad, pretentious state of affairs at the prestigious Tate. There are precedents: Yves Klein’s 1958 exhibition The Void presented viewers with an empty white gallery. Well, Scoop’s correspondent wasn’t particularly inspired by Creed, but maybe he’s just a cultural ignoramus.

The Turner Prize, which was first awarded in 1984, has become synonymous with controversy and public debate about what is art, let alone good art. To be sure, the Tate openly states its desire to stimulate discussion about art and clearly loves playing agent provocateur. Creed’s work is far from the first to irritate the (relative) traditionalists. However, it’s still another nail in the coffin of art real and proper for some. It was all too much for one London painter, Jacqueline Crofton, who was banned from the Tate after throwing eggs into The Lights Going On And Off on Monday, reportedly much to the glee of some onlookers. Mrs Crofton includes Sir Michael Caine among buyers of her works: not just another failed artist with a chip on her shoulder. "What I object to fiercely is that we've got this cartel who control the top echelons of the art world in this country and leave no access for painters and sculptors with real creative talent’’ Mrs Crofton said. "All they are interested in is manufacturers of gimmicks like Creed, who made his name with a ball of BluTac and a sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball [other Creed works]."

Creed, 33, who was born in Yorkshire and now lives in Italy, was presented with a £20 000 cheque by rock star Madonna at the awards on Sunday for The Lights… among other works: the artists are short-listed for both works at the Tate and elsewhere. The competition was stiff even if you don’t like that sort of thing: for example there was a six-minute film shot in the bizarre but beautiful antiquarian world of London’s Sir John Soane Museum, Isaac Julien’s Vagabondia. There was also Ray in Bed, Birmingham artist Richard Billingham’s film of his alcoholic father, Ray, lying in bed. His mother Liz brings Ray a cup of tea and encourages him to get up. Billingham, a young man with an urge to show the world his super ‘ordinary’ yet terribly dysfunctional family, says on the video shown at the exhibition that people say his mother is fat and ugly but he thought they might see the beauty underneath…art as therapy? Then there’s Mike Nelson, who likes to confuse visitors with badly signed corridors (mis) leading to rooms full of his installation art, but that’s another story.

A five-person jury awards the Turner Prize. A Tate spokesperson told Scoop:’the jury admired Creed’s audacity in presenting a single work in the exhibition and noted its strength, rigour, wit and sensitivity to the site’. Tate’s Turner Prize 2001 booklet says Creed’s: ‘idiosyncratic stance is born out of acute indecision and a playful occupation with the conundrum of wanting to simultaneously make something out of nothing.’ His Page Two work #232: the whole world+the work=the whole world, a neon sign saying exactly this, was displayed on the façade of the Tate last year. To Creed’s fans this spells out his underlying ethos: add nothing to a world already cluttered with art works but take nothing away either, equilibrium is important. Creed also has a punk band Owada who sing very short songs about ‘nothing’.

Even putting aside the now notorious Damien Hurst and his legendary pickling of animals, two years ago Turner Prize nominee Tracey Emin's installation of her bedroom - My Bed - attracted controversy and an attack by two visual artists who held a pillow fight on the bed. The installation featured slippers, an ashtray and menstrually-stained underwear. That year anti-modernist group the Stuckists was also formed. The Stuckists have a manifesto that states: artists who don’t paint aren’t artists and art that has to be in a gallery isn’t art. They switched torches on and off outside the Tate on Sunday night, protesting what they see as the Turner’s egocentricity and fraudulence. They are opposed to modernism and post-modernism. They have very harsh words to say about the latter ‘post modernism, in its adolescent attempt to ape the clever and witty in modern art has shown itself to be lost in a cul-de-sac of idiocy’. In response to the Stuckists’ claims about the supremacy of painting Tate’s spokesperson told Scoop: ‘We have had many painters included on previous Turner Prize shortlists…including Chris Ofili in 1998.’

This comment may enrage Stuckists because Ofili’s painting of a black Virgin Mary in true Turner fashion was painted using elephant dung, which Ofili uses in all of his paintings. The name Stuckist comes from when arch nemesis Emin told co-founder Billy Childish ‘your paintings are stuck, you are stuck. Stuck! Stuck! Stuck!’ What an incestuous world Britain’s art scene is: Childish knew Emin when they were both young performance poets, they were even a couple for years. Contention over fair arts funding aside, maybe there’s an element of ‘live and let live’ to be gleaned from all this.

ENDS

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