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The Turner Prize

Report of the lecture
given by Frank Woodgate
on October 24th 2012

Our lecture today was given by Frank Woodgate who lectures at both Tate Britain and Tate Modern and has a wealth of knowledge on the subject of the Turner Prize. He explained that it is awarded every year to "a British artist under fifty for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the twelve months preceding" and who is chosen by a panel of independent judges (some from abroad) invited by the Tate and chaired by the Director of Tate Britain.

He then entertained us with slides of the work of past winners and nominees. Four nominees enter the final and exhibit work of their choice in Tate Britain a few weeks before the winner is announced.

The Turner Prize dates back to 1984 when the winner was Malcolm Morley - not a very popular winner as he lived in America and did not bother to turn up to collect his 10,000 prize! Next came the colourful painter Howard Hodgkin and then in 1986 the popular pair, Gilbert and George, who met at St Martin’s and have been together ever since producing interesting and very colourful works of art. According to Frank, they can be seen every evening visiting their favourite restaurant of the moment and always smartly dressed in their tweed jackets.

Through the years the winners have included photographers, video makers, sculptors, installation artists, sound artists and this year even a performance artist.

We tend to remember those who have shocked us the most, i.e. Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. Our lecturer respects the latter because she has made a success of her life in spite of having had a very troubled background. She obtained an MA and several years ago was made an RA. (Times have changed!)

His view of Damien Hirst is that he is an excellent marketing man who knows how to sell himself! It is quite beyond my comprehension how clients are prepared to spend millions of pounds on his work at Sotheby’s. We were shown a picture of the diamond studded skull which was a prime example.

I was interested to hear about the 1992 winner, Douglas Gordon, who presented a video, A Divided Self, which consisted of two arms intertwining. Both arms were his but one was hairy and the other shaven to trick viewers into thinking that it belonged to a female!

In 2003 the winner was Grayson Perry, the potter, a very unusual character.

He is a transvestite, with a daughter, who collected his prize wearing a very flouncy skirt. He has recently written an autobiography of his younger days called "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl”.

I must mention Antony Gormley OBE who, since winning the prize in 1994, has become world famous and will always be associated with his Angel of the North, a very striking work of art.

This year’s Turner Prize winner will be announced on 3rd December. Of the four nominees Frank favours Paul Noble whose large paintings of fantasy towns are intriguing. Since listening to his fascinating lecture I definitely have a different view of the Turner Prize and might even be tempted to go to the exhibitions at Tate Britain!

Maureen Hellyer

Frank Woodgate sporting his striking Damien Hirst tie