An Inclusive Litany

10/27/98

A Reuters dispatch from London, October 27, 1998:
Vying to land Britain's top art award are exhibits including a comic book hero made of elephant dung and a video of naked women bathing.

The $33,300 Turner prize, won in the past by a pickled sheep and a wrestling video, sparks controversy every year and 1998 is no exception.

The prize has been mocked by critics as a pretentious publicity stunt but the annual display of the shortlist at London's Tate Gallery regularly attracts up to 80,000 visitors.

The winner, certain to win instant international fame or notoriety, is announced on December 1.

After attending the press view of the four artists contesting the prize Tuesday, outspoken art critic Brian Sewell concluded: "This year is worse than ever. It has absolutely no merit.

"It is dull, silly and trifling. I am in favor of the idea of the prize but am appalled by the execution," he said.

In 1995, media interest reached new heights when Damien Hirst, the enfant terrible of British art, won the award with a pickled sheep.

In 1993, art pranksters were so angered that they set up an alternative award for the worst work of the year. Both their award and the Turner prize were won by Rachel Whiteread.

Much of the controversy at this year's show centered on the exuberant and colorful paintings of black artist Chris Ofili.

Centerpiece of his work on display was "The Adoration of Captain S*** and the Legend of the Black Stars Part 2."

The striking painting of a corpulent black pop star bursting out of his tinseled outfit is described as "a remix of art historical quotation, biblical reference and hip hop music."....

Gallery curator Michela Parkin was delighted that art could still stir strong feelings: "One of the purposes of the prize is to get people talking about art. Not everyone can like everything. We want to get people excited."

[Ed.: You're not the only one. Back in the States, Capitol Hill police issued an arrest warrant for Martin Mawyer of the Christian Action Network on the grounds of indecency when he tried to exhibit controversial artwork supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.]

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