The Turner Prize this year is not intended to celebrate or create big names in the British art scene. Instead, the shortlisted exhibit, which opened at the Herbert Gallery in Coventry last week, is dedicated to collectives – most of whom seek social benefits, whether they are ‘draw attention to environmental issues in food production or work with neurodiverse people to create art.
The value of these goals is clear. But one might well ask, what does all this have to do with an award which, since its inception in 1984, has drawn public attention to some of Britain’s most important individual artists, among which Rachel Whiteread, Steve McQueen and Lubaina Himid?
The Turner Prize has been in question for several years. In 2019, the shortlisted artists rejected the notion of competition and declared themselves unique collectives, essentially forcing the judges to share the prize among themselves. The following year, in the midst of a pandemic, the Tate transformed the award into a series of scholarships; this year’s judges ignore the idea of ââthe unique creator. The traditional criteria for judging the prize – supposedly awarded to the best exhibition made the previous year by a UK-based artist – appear to be outdated.
The culture of prices is special. It is obvious that the idea of ââchoosing the “best” in any aesthetic field, be it exhibition, novel or architecture, is in some sense arbitrary, or at least highly questionable. On the other hand, artistic competitions have accompanied us for a very long time, at least since the playwrights of Athens clashed in the Great Dionysia, and even during the early days of the modern Olympic Games, with its literary manifestations. , art, music and architecture.
The search for the âbestâ is part of the ongoing canon-building process – a difficult, imperfect mechanism, constantly to be revised, yet necessary to reduce the mass of cultural production to manageable proportions in the long run. term.
In the short term, competitions are also a pragmatic way to introduce a popular audience to a cultural object selected by experts because of its quality rather than its mere market appeal – from the winner of the Palme d’Or, for example. example, to the winner of the TS Eliot Poetry Prize. The Turner was created in the wake of the Booker Prize to introduce a large British audience to the best of contemporary art. He wanted to be a populist.
Price seems to abandon this old pragmatism in favor of idealism. But the indisputable vulgarity of prices – bookmaker odds, television coverage, sometimes mocking tabloid articles, speculation – is precisely what has made the Turner Prize, since the 1980s, a major gateway to the world. contemporary art for an audience beyond those who are already aficionados.
The current mood of the Turner Prize can be laudable in itself. But the institution risks losing money if it becomes too aggressive and puts away the fun, chaos and scandal that once drove it.