Flickering Bulbs That `Symbolise Mortality' Win the Turner Prize

By Louise Jury Media Corespondent | The Independent (London, England), December 1, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Flickering Bulbs That `Symbolise Mortality' Win the Turner Prize

Louise Jury Media Corespondent, The Independent (London, England)

THE MOST audacious and most criticised entry in this year's Turner Prize competition won Martin Creed, a conceptual artist, the pounds 20,000 winner's cheque last night.

Work 227: The lights going on and off was just that - an entirely white gallery at Tate Britain in London illuminated only by a handful of lightbulbs flickering on and off.

But while it failed to convince all the critics, the prize judges, headed by Sir Nicholas Serota, the Tate's director, decided the gesture was a worthy addition to the tradition of minimal and conceptual art and that it deserved the top prize.

In a joint statement, the jury said they "admired [Creed's] audacity in presenting a single work in the exhibition and noted its strength, rigour, wit and sensitivity to the site".

And lest anyone should believe he had not done enough to pocket one of the biggest prizes in British art, they pointed to two other works proving his art was "engaging, wide-ranging and fresh".

These were two neon signs, one entitled Work 203: Everything is going to be alright, which was exhibited over the entrance to a hospital, and the other, Work 232: The whole world+the work=the whole world, which was shown over the entrance to Tate Britain, in Pimlico, last year.

With not a crumpled bed or a sawn-up cow in sight, the biggest excitement surrounding last night's glitzy prize dinner at Tate Britain had been expected to be the appearance of the pop star and earnest art collector Madonna, who was to present the winner's cheque.

The singer, now married to the film director Guy Ritchie, has shown strong support for the Tate since making London her base. She attended a party at Tate Britain last year and lent a Frida Kahlo painting from her private collection to Tate Modern's current "Surrealism" show.

But the decision to spurn both the critics' favourite, Mike Nelson, who had represented Britain at the Venice Biennale this summer, and Isaac Julien, who was the original bookies' favourite, produced a frisson to rival the appearance of even the queen of pop. "I don't think it was what many people were expecting," confided one source close to the prize last night.

Yet surprise has been a feature of the contest ever since the Turner Prize made its hesitant debut in 1984. While this year's shortlist raised questions over whether its moment had passed, it has undoubtedly contributed to the swell of interest in contemporary art by provoking years of heated debate.

Looking at the roll-call of past winners, it represents a credible history of British art in the past 20 years. Recipients have included many now regarded as grand old men, including Howard Hodgkin, Gilbert and George, Tony Cragg and Anish Kapoor.

Even more recent winners, such as Damien Hirst in 1995, look part of the arts establishment these days, though whether that is because the prize judges got it right or because winning the prize makes you part of the establishment may be hard to tell.

None the less, there was some surprise and disappointment when the 2001 shortlist was announced in May. Heavily touted possibles such as Michael Landy, who had grabbed headlines by destroying all his belongings in an empty Oxford Street department store, or the controversial Chapman brothers, Jake and Dinos, were absent.

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Flickering Bulbs That `Symbolise Mortality' Win the Turner Prize


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