The British Council last night blamed continuing anger over the Iraq war for the failure of Chris Ofili to win a top honour at this year's Venice Biennale.
Andrea Rose, the council's director of visual arts, praised the Turner Prize-winning artist for creating a "wow factor" with his spectacular "love pavilion" focusing on five paintings decked in beads and glitter and resting on heaps of elephant dung. But she said his chances of winning one of the fine art festival's Golden Lion awards had been irreparably harmed by ongoing Europe-wide disapproval of Britain's role in the war against Saddam Hussein.
Speaking from the British Council pavilion, which houses Ofili's Africa- inspired show, Within Reach, Ms Rose said: "He has created a wow factor. It's a love pavilion. Chris got married last year and the paintings are full of love."
However, she said the widespread condemnation of the Iraq war by other European countries had made it "impossible" for Ofili to win first prize at the Biennale.
Asked why Ofili had not won, she said: "Because of the war. It was impossible."
Her comments came as the Golden Lion for best national entry was presented to Luxembourg - a country that famously has few, if any, enemies - for its exhibition of the works of voice and video artist Su-mei-tse. The Golden Lion for best work also evaded Britain, when it was awarded to the Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss.
There was some small compensation, however, when a lesser award for best artist under 35 years was won by the British duo Oliver Payne and Nick Relph - a pair of young film-makers whose work is on show as part of a huge international exhibition in the Arsenale dockyard.
Nonetheless, the UK's overall performance brought back memories of the "nul points" scored last month by our Eurovision Song Contest entry - widely blamed on anti-war sentiment. Disquiet over the war was also blamed for the poor showing of the black American artist Fred Wilson.
While the memory of the conflict may well have affected some things, it did little to stop the glitterati coming out in force for the customary opening weekend soirees. …