Writing about the increasingly obsolete Turner Prize is the very definition of shooting fish in a barrel. Waldemar Januszczak has already written the Turner Prize essay to end all essays: calling 2014’s effort nothing short of torturous, “plumbing the depths of portentous banality”. He posited himself as an unwitting guinea pig, sacrificing himself so that we wouldn’t suffer visiting. Depressingly, we’ve gone beyond the schadenfreude of reading a deliciously scathing review: it’s now not awful, but simply a limp shrug of non-spiration that’s just not funny any more. Adrian Searle has already pointed out that Cardiff’s Artes Mundi competition was a much sharper vivisection of art today, and anyone visiting Frieze can see a much more savage competition of imaginative talent (read = commercial savvy, if you were feeling unsympathetic). The last year which truly surprised me (and many others) for its collection of quietly affecting and intelligent Turner entrants was 2009, with Richard Wright named winner for his fresco-inspired installation paintings. A list of earlier entrants reads like a who’s who of major representatives of traditional disciplines: Freud, Kapoor, Whiteread, Perry. The 2009 show represents a blip in the evolution of a prize that has increasingly become less about boring old ‘proper art’ and more about the ‘WTF is this art’.
This year appears to be a new touchstone in this slow shuffle towards non-art: many are commenting that there’s simply not much to look at. But that point is by the by; the focus is clearly and roundly fixed on political worthiness, of a real social impact, with every critic banging on about the housing estate piece by conscientious group Assemble, who engage with the residents of their buildings. I argued last week that art no longer has political teeth; well, before you tell me to eat my words, I still maintain that this is not art. The piece itself is a by-product of something bigger, less tangible, and definitely more socio-politically orientated than anything primarily visual in purpose. But oh-ho! I am myself validating the Turner Prize as a means to engage in debate about what art is now. WTF is evidently order of the day, and it will be for some time to come. Grumble grumble.
It’s worth noting the changing nature of the Turner Prize through its mirroring anti-movements. The Turnip Prize is now awarded sniggeringly to entrants of deliberately crap art, displaying sufficient “lack of effort”, and chastising entries for “not being shit enough”. How amusing, how gentle. Cast your mind back to the K Foundation awarding its own anti-Turner prize to Turner Prize winning Whiteread, doubling the official prize money. She was forced to accept their award for worst artist money when told that otherwise it would be burnt. Gone are the days when art – both official, and unofficial – was really dangerous.
ArtBytch © Artlyst 2015