The Paris Review

How Original Are You?

“The old idea of making things” So there I was, sprawled across the floor of my living room in south London, happily riffling through the newspapers on my iPad (I’m old-fashioned like that). The shortlist for the annual Turner Prize had just been announced, and the broadsheet commentators seemed even more mystified than usual by […]

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“The old idea of making things”

So there I was, sprawled across the floor of my living room in south London, happily riffling through the newspapers on my iPad (I’m old-fashioned like that). The shortlist for the annual Turner Prize had just been announced, and the broadsheet commentators seemed even more mystified than usual by the list of nominees.

It was evident that the judges had done something unusual—unusual even in the context of the prize that had made Tracey Emin’s Bed tabloid fodder—by the reaction in the Guardian, where the super-sober Adrian Searle declared himself baffled. After offering a rundown of the candidates (Duncan Campbell, James Richards, Tris Vonna-Michell, Ciara Phillips), he declared: “It’s all a bit dour, and I take this as deliberate. This year’s judges seem to be intent on delivering an exhibition that not only shakes things up—none of the shortlisted artists are exactly familiar to a wider audience—but also want us to struggle with meaning as much as the artists seem to do … It’s going to be hard work.” 

Hard work. Oh dear.

If the progressives on the left weren’t exactly licking their lips in anticipation of the prize show’s unveiling, what would the guardians of tradition on the right make of it?  I switched to the website of the conservative broadsheet the to find out. “When the most conventional of the Turner Prize shortlisted artists is an installation artist whose work is created in situ by other artists, designers and members of the public,” the piece began, “you realize that contemporary art, or certainly the kind represented by this once controversial prize, is leaving traditional media far behind. Never mind no painting or sculpture, casting an eye down this year’s list of artists you’d be forgiven for thinking there’ll be precious little in the exhibition actually to look at.”

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