Who has not stared blankly at a bewildering installation and wondered what the blazes it was all about? Given that ideas are so fundamental to this sort of art, what we clueless punters need is clarification, not obfuscation. Which makes it all the more annoying when critics write in what seems to be a willfully abstruse way. The topic obviously struck a chord. There were some hilariously impenetrable entries and commendations go to Bill Greenwell and David Blaber. John O’Byrne invited failure and, in an act of subversion (and because it’s good), I have included him among the winners below, who get £25 each. Simon Machin pockets this week’s bonus fiver.
We Modern Art prophets were right! Darren Donoghue, the tousle-haired Mancunian enfant terrible, has rescued the Prize from the fusty preserve of pickled Mammalia and potted gender-bending. ‘What Tracey Done’, a child’s art-kit reworking (by an imaginary four-year-old stepdaughter) of Constable’s ‘Hay Wain’, extracts gritty Northern pith from subtopian Home Counties pieties. It is dazzlingly liminal, transgressing conceptual–figurative–Stuckist boundaries; boiled-sweet daubs inducing a Heimlich manoeuvre of the soul (and body); landscape-by-numbers initiating an aesthetic ground zero; a Fukayaman (or Gallagheresque) finger pointed at the question ‘Whither Art Criticism?’ An echt-Proletarian traceable back to the Engelian patriarchs, Donoghue has found a post-Marxist way to épater les bourgeois and écraser les riches. Stiff competition from a neon-lit zen bus-shelter, llama-dung Mother Teresa and Tantric nipple-piercing video notwithstanding, his painting carries, for corporate collectors, an eye-watering price tag and will send him crying all the way to a Manhattan penthouse.
In that archetypal Bildungsroman Heinrich von Ofterdingen, Novalis’s eponymous hero finally reaches his journey’s transfiguring goal only to learn that he has returned to the place from which he set out. An identical paradox has reduced Katzenjammer’s critics to floundering bafflement. ‘Mother in a Rocking Chair’, formally reminiscent as it is of Whistler’s ‘Arrangement’, is at first sight the antithesis of Katzenjammer’s previous work. It has been variously described as a ‘meditation on a portrait’, a ‘representation of a portrait’, an ‘antiportrait’— even simply as a ‘portrait’. This reflects a level of critical naiveté with which it is hard to sympathise. ‘Mother’ is none of these things and it is all of them: it is conceptual, metaconceptual, postmetaconceptual, preconceptual and aconceptual. With superb panache and magnificently timed irony, Katzenjammer has flung his own pot of paint into the public’s face, taken art by the hand, and brought it, finally, full circle.
Harriet C. Walter
Hermann Utik created the first fine-art controversy of the decade when his legendary installation ‘The Price Of Fame’ consisted only of his amputated right arm — in a playfully ironic glass case. A nuanced rebuke to the art establishment as well as an eloquent and bold denial that the conceptual artist is a manual worker, it was lengthily anathematised by Brian Sewell and mocked by the philistine tabloids. Now, propelled by boundlessly expanding ideas, Utik has entered a new creative phase with ‘Up Yours’, a ten-foot-high replica of a GP’s prostate board. The three gristly protuberances — pristine, aged, diseased in the mundane original — equally invoke Christ with the two thieves on Calvary and Freud’s secular trinity of Id, Ego, Superego. Spanning science and religion, myth and medicine, pathology and metaphysics, Utik’s art proceeds with a growing maturity to shatter icons and open doors for the inquiring contemporary mind.
Artistically, so much is vieux jeu. We have had rooms with beds and rooms with nothing, but here, from Roland Transom, is a room barred altogether. Up to this point of time, all art has been achievable, accessible. Now, at last, we have the concept of Art that is Not For Us. Odi profanum vulgus, et arceo, says Horace, but makes us free of his Odes. Noli tangere, says Transom, and is as good as his word. It is for us to imagine what lies behind that locked door. I imagine it obstructed by a mahogany escritoire, while in the centre of the room stands, perhaps, one simple white wooden chair. Oh, the emotion of that imaginary chair! Not since the Ark of the Covenant, perhaps, has that been successfully presented.
Pushing the epistemological parameters of art as a construct of reality even further than Magritte’s celebrated conceptual ne-pas-pipe or indeed Schrödinger’s Gedanken-cat, the interactive participation required for the appreciation of the Turner Prize entry ‘Napoleon’s Fart’, which demands of the viewer that they should precisely not open the apparently empty transparent box, thus permitting the reconstructed but at the same time inevitably impossible olfactory sensation to escape and so destroy itself, tests the very nature of testing itself to the limit. The standard gallery injunction not to touch (or experience through any other sensory manner) here becomes part of the creative moment. Cognoscenti will recognise this installation (the artist prefers ‘exhalation’) as the culmination of a developmental sequence which began with the lead-box presentation ‘Charlemagne’s Fart’ and ‘Queen Victoria’s Fart’, which required a whole (sealed) room. This is indeed art which sublimely merges conception and reception.
Brett Callaghan’s ‘Failed Comps’ is a visual configuration of defeated creativity, a collage of inspired but unprized work. These six rectangular pages submitted to someone called Lucy represent a symphony of disappointment, a typographical hymn of imaginative effort filtered through the bathetic conduit of the email. The visual geometry is simple: a hybrid of poetry, prose and amusing one-liners compressed into a thin stack. Failure is the recurrent theme. The ‘losing’ entries (alas we cannot fail to notice the exit sign over the gallery door) are laid alongside the actual winners, scissored violently from the magazine, like fish — gutted and rejected — on a rainswept quayside. There is a strong sense of viewing the world though words. Is the artist hinting that the awarding of prizes is unworthy of true art?
Competition No. 2519: Short story
You are invited to submit a short story with the title ‘A Song from under the Floorboards’ (maximum 150 words). Entries to ‘Competition 2519’ by 1 November or email firstname.lastname@example.org.