Thu, Dec 07, 2006 - Page 15 News List

An altogether quieter Turner prize

Though there was no pornography, elephant dung or scandal, Britain's contentious art prize still ruffled a few feathers in the art world

By Charlotte Higgins  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

An artwork by Mark Titchner who was one of four artists selected for this year's Turner prize.

PHOTOS: AFP AND AP

There are no flashing lights this year, literally or metaphorically; no scandal, manufactured or otherwise, in the form of elephant dung or pornographic pots. This year's Turner prize has been won by the deeply serious abstract painter Tomma Abts — the first woman to win since Gillian Wearing took the prize in 1997, and the first artist devoted to painting since Chris Ofili in 1998.

Abts was awarded the ?25,000 (NT$1.6 million) prize Monday night by Yoko Ono at a ceremony at Tate Britain in London. She proved a hugely popular winner among the British art world — which was out in force last night at what amounts to its annual tribal get-together.

Since 1998, all the paintings by this German-born, London-based artist have been made on canvases measuring precisely 48cm x 38cm. She uses no source material, but allows the form of the paintings to emerge as she applies layers of color — a process that mingles disciplined severity with pure intuition. The results are entirely sui generis — some of the forms look as if they want to struggle into three dimensions; others coil, snakelike, across the canvas.

Abts saw off opposition from three other shortlisted artists, each of whom wins ?4,000. Phil Collins' submission was based around the making of a film called The Return of the Real, in which he gave people whose lives had been ruined by reality TV an opportunity to tell their stories, unedited. Rebecca Warren is a sculptor whose often highly sexualized work takes on artists such as Rodin and Giacometti. Mark Titchner creates installations, posters and billboards that question belief systems, from religion to science.

For the seventh year running, the group of anti-Tate, anti-Turner prize artists known as the Stuckists picketed Tate Britain as guests filtered into the gallery for the ceremony. Formerly dismissed as cranks, the Stuckists (so known because Tracey Emin once accused her then boyfriend, former Stuckist Billy Childish, of being "stuck") this year precipitated a Charity Commission report into conflict of interest on the Tate board of trustees.

The group had campaigned against the Tate's purchase of Ofili's ?600,000 installation, The Upper Room, while Ofili was a serving trustee. When the Charity Commission reported on the affair this summer, it reprimanded the Tate for mismanaging conflict of interest and expressed disappointment that better standards had not been met.

Last night, the Stuckists called for the resignation of the Tate's director, Nicholas Serota, and its chairman, Paul Myners.

They also brandished placards asking "Is it all a fix?" quoting a piece by Lynn Barber, a writer for the Observer and a Turner prize juror this year.

Breaking the traditional omerta observed by jurors, she wrote an article in October that has overshadowed the latter stages of this year's prize. In it, she aired her bafflement at the judging process, and declared her enthusiasm for contemporary art "seriously dampened" after her year as a Turner panel member.

She described feeling "demoralized, disillusioned, and full of dark fears that I have been stitched up — that actually the art world [whatever that is] has already decided who will win the 2006 Turner prize and that I am brought in purely as a figleaf."

Charles Thomson, leader of the Stuckists, yesterday described Abts' work as "silly little meaningless diagrams that make 1950s wallpaper look profound." The runners-up came in for equal disdain. He advised Phil Collins to "get out more"; Mark Titchner prompted him to ask "What is this load of rubbish doing in the Tate?" and, he added, "Rebecca Warren makes Mr. Blobby look like Michelangelo."

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