Here we go again. Another year, another ludicrous, unfair and undemocratic Turner prize shortlist. Over the years, finer minds than mine have struggled to find coherence or purpose in this Keystone Cops of a gong. The severely dysfunctional Turner keeps finding new ways not to do what it was set up to do — choose the best new British art — preferring instead to appal and exhaust us with increasingly cranky gimmicks.
The last time it was awarded, it veered into lunacy when the four shortlisted artists decided they were against the notion of a winner and instructed the jury that they had all won together. Rather than grab them by the ear and read out the rules again, the job lot of curatorial yes-persons let them get on with this nonsense.
At the time, I believed that particular display of Turner stupidity was insurmountable. Foolish me. This year’s shortlist of five “collectives’”— self-selected mixed groups of artistic types — is so transparently fixed that it reads like something out of Animal Farm.
The Array Collective is “a group of Belfast-based artists who create collaborative actions in response to issues affecting Northern Ireland”. The Black Obsidian Sound System (BOSS) “challenges the dominant norms of sound-system culture across the African diaspora”. Cooking Section is “a London-based duo examining the systems that organise the world through food”. Gentle/Radical and Project Art Works are the others. You get the picture.
Collectives are currently the “in” thing in art. The prestigious Kassel Documenta, whose next German edition is due in 2022, has chosen a collective from Indonesia to direct its proceedings. The Indonesian collective has duly asked lots of other collectives to attend the jamboree and challenge the iniquitous hold of the individual on art.
Any three-year old kid reading this article who might foolishly have reached across for a coloured pencil with which to draw something: beware. Your days of egotistical individualism are numbered.
The worst thing here, however, isn’t the lack of artistic sensitivity or knowledge that is being so flagrantly peacocked. This is the Turner prize. When did artistic sensitivity ever come into it? Worse than the ambitions of Cooking Sections to pass off food issues as art is the stink of manipulation emanating from the Turner prize jury room.
Having spent last year looking at whatever art was briefly available — because that’s my job — nowhere did I encounter anything by any of these “collectives”. If they did appear somewhere, it cannot have been an outstanding appearance. The chances of five collectives simultaneously making the most significant contribution to British art in 2020 are a gazillion to one. It didn’t happen.
So what did?
Well, back in 2005, the writer Lynn Barber, sometimes of this parish, was asked to join the Turner prize jury. In those days there was always a token outsider on the panel, a non-curatorial presence who kept the whole thing honest.
Unfortunately, Barber was so disappointed by the experience, and the lack of fairness and democracy she witnessed, that she published her memories in a scathing report. Since then, outsiders have been banned from the jury.
Instead, what we get is art world talking to art world in a grim joke of a selection process. This is not a jury that scours the country looking for the best art of the year. It’s a jury of interwoven curators who hop from international biennale to international biennale, learning the trends, drifting ever further away from the realities of art.
Someone please close down the farm.