It doesn’t do anything for me, but then what do I mean by meaningless?

Opinion: Turner Prize at least gives us an opportunity every year to vent our scepticism

 A poster hangs on a wall in Ebrington Square, Derry, the venue of the 2013 Turner Prize. Photograph: Getty Images

A poster hangs on a wall in Ebrington Square, Derry, the venue of the 2013 Turner Prize. Photograph: Getty Images

Thu, Oct 24, 2013, 12:01

Everybody I know with a reputation for knowing anything about art appears to believe that Tino Sehgal is a shoo-in for this year’s Turner Prize. The fact that I found his piece at the Ebrington gallery in Derry bewildering shows how little I understand these things, possibly. The gala opening on Tuesday night attracted a throng of local worthies in our best ballgowns, dicky-bows and T-shirts, all of us on a high that such a prestigious event had come to our city of culture and anxious to discuss the pieces on show. My briefly considered view that Sehgal’s This is Exchange was “meaningless” elicited the advice that I should “interrogate what you mean by meaningless”. Yeah, right. That’s one of the great things about the Turner Prize. It gives us an opportunity once a year to slag off the judges for having their heads inserted into their posteriors and to pose the perennial question, “Well all right, but is it art?”
This is Exchange
has a team of volunteers moving around the room button-holing visitors and asking them for their views on the market economy and confiding the code-word for collecting a £2 coin as
you leave.

Irritation
My irritation may have been prompted by the fact that I am regularly invited to discuss variations on this very topic when I walk into, for example, Sandino’s, just across the Peace Bridge.

David Shrigley’s Life Model 2012 comprises a 10ft animatronic figure with blinking goggle-eyes in a huge head, an elongated torso and a nicely proportioned willy that every now and again pees into a bucket, surrounded by chairs and easels so that each of us can produce our own sketch for display on the walls.

Since the figure is itself distorted, you can’t really go wrong. The piece seemed to me to incite reflection on the making and meaning of art and on the relationship of the artist with the audience. Plus, it’s terrific fun. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s striking paintings of imagined figures are presented dimly spot-lit in a darkened room for reasons that were beyond me. I couldn’t see them clearly. The room containing Laure Prouvost’s presentation of a video and the clutter of her grandparents’ home was too tightly packed to get in past the entrance. The exhibition runs until January. There’ll be time to return.

From a parochial viewpoint, the test of the Turner will lie in the extent to which it leaves a legacy of heightened interest in and understanding and practice of visual art in Derry. The most positive aspect of the opening-night babble was the way discussion of the exhibits led to debate on what’s already being produced and presented in the city. The Turner has illuminated an arts “scene” more lively and well-rooted than is commonly acknowledged, even in as self-regarding a neck of the woods as this.

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