We’ve had a steady stream of end-of-year-best-of, top-ten lists and awards for entertainment from film to tv shows to music. And just as with any list or award process, unless set in a polling booth scenario, the people involved with sorting the list are usually heavily involved and or heavily interested. Polls and figures whether drawn from box office statistics, viewing figures or downloading stats, all attempt to offer a comprehensive overview in shifting patterns of public taste.
Well, one does hope so. This does tend to work for entertainment, because in general, the public are also pretty in tune with what’s going on.
Then there is Art.
In the 80’s the Turner Prize was realised by a group of committee members connected with the Tate; The Friends of The Tate, the PNA. This was post seventies and post Carl Andre’s *Pile of Bricks*. When art was entering into a far less conceptual era.
Cartoon as appeared in The Daily Mail in 1979 : interpretation of Equivalent Vlll
The idea of a prize for artistic endeavour though was always headed in the direction of a rocky reception:
Aside from all the discussion about the new penchant for expressionist art being manipulated or encouraged to raise a flagging art market. And lifting Turners (sacred) name for a prize not connected with his original concept. Plus it being based on the successful literary prize format, The Booker, which was all about readership and sales. And the worrisome untimely coincidence of a Tate exhibition largely contributed to by *Labour isn’t Working * campaign advertiser Charles Saatchi with his collection of Julian Schnabel (9 out of the 11 pictures shown were Saatchi’s).
The PNA had suggested the idea of a prize and in so were changing the state of play for a Public Art Institution, who were wanting to change style but were still held back from making any firm decisions as to how. By the simple fact the committee had many differing views about which direction to follow or if indeed whether to change at all.
Max Gordon initially suggested the idea of an annual prize, maybe with TV company collaboration like Channel Four. Alan Bowness a founder member of the PNA instigated the idea to follow the lines of The Booker and, later, an anonymous sponsor offered £10,000 prize money for three years.
The anonymous sponsor, because of the anonymity was then subject to a lot of theories about relevant sponsorship and funding.
The sponsor was in fact Oliver Prenn, who was also a founder member of the PNA and also successful in business. He didn’t want press coverage, and agreed that his name or brand should not be included in the title of the prize.
Giving the cash was enough.
Now, whether the basic idea of ever offering a Prize for art is in your remit of ethics, and it certainly wasn’t with some: The KLF and their K Foundation made a point of showing the Turner Prize in all its glory by creating The Worst Artist of the Year Award, which had the same artist shortlist as that years Turner. I seem to remember Rachel Whiteread sort of forced herself to accept the prize money on offer from the KF, on the grounds that if not Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty were going to burn the cash – she gave it to charity.
One The K Foundation’s Adverts
In short, out of this turbulence of mixed public-private sponsorship funding and change. Especially with the backdrop of monopolistic tendencies from non government sources being leapt upon by critics concerned about the (the very real) complete demise of public funding through the government (a Conservative policy preference for private sector involvement on every level and political hot potato).
And whatever your views on what the Turner Prize has become, its beginning was certainly unique for its time:
The dynamics of a few people and the hands off approach to sponsorship created an almost Schrödinger’s Cat scenario for the inception of this particular prize for art. It certainly wasn’t without its critics and never was perfect, but it came close.
Government funding, private sponsorship; power structures and committees all have their imbalance of favour. Buffers of committees and councils can go some way to halt meddling.
But a couple of people drawn by the dynamics of a situation and the ability not to look into the metaphorical box and alter the outcome, is as close as it gets maybe.
I’m thinking even Bill and Jimmy might agree on that dynamic!.
You don’t have to have previous knowledge nor indeed been involved before, just a passion for art, and a willingness to join in and help offer solutions from wherever you are based.