Regular readers of these pages know that I recently wrote a post about the wonderful work of George Shaw, a contemporary British painter who had been nominated for this year’s Turner Prize in contemporary art. Shaw’s work captures some of the forgotten corners of modern urban life, with a keen eye for detail and an evocation of a sense of stillness that drew me in from the first moment I saw it. Unfortunately, the winner of this year’s Turner Prize was announced today, and it was not Mr. Shaw, but rather an artist who does the sort of work that looks like what it is: a pile of rubbish that a cleaning lady would be forgiven for throwing out when tidying up after the gallery has closed for the day. In other words, it can be summed up as Tracey Emin 2.0.
The work in question could easily be derided because it says nothing, unless you happen to be fluent in “artspeak”. This is the jibber-jabber of nonsense which passes for intellectualism in the contemporary art world, and which in its variants continues to promote exceptionally bad taste in the architecture and design worlds as well. One comes across it when one is unfortunate enough to have to take a course at Sotheby’s on contemporary art theory, with a professor who thought that displaying a bunch of empty coat hangers from the ceiling was the height of depth, as it were.
Yet in fact, the selection of this particular, untalented artist over the actually-talented Mr. Shaw says a great deal about elites in Britain. Faced with the choice between a contemporary artist looking at the world around him with a display of technical skill, and another who is simply selling the latest version of the emperor’s new clothes, the prize committee chose the latter. My British readers will forgive me, or rather they probably will not, but if further proof was needed that Britain is asleep at its post in defending Western civilization, here it is.