As the winner of Britain’s biggest art award was announced earlier this week, I have decided it about time that I used my untrained eye to belatedly examine the nominees. The competition has historically been of great cultural significance within the art world as it has proved to be the making of many artists careers and has set the social standard of how we define art. Three previous winners are now listed in the world’s richest top ten living artists, a fact which has nothing to do with the meagre prize winnings of £25,000 and everything to do with the implied individual’s prestige and credibility as an artist. The world- renown former winner Damien Hirst never sold anything at auction before winning the prize; now he is the world’s richest living artist, at an estimated net worth of over one billion dollars. Indeed sometimes the nomination itself such as for Tracy Emming is sufficient to make an artist a household name.  

So what happened this year? Here is my analysis of the nominations.

The group Assemble questioned their right to be nominated at all – their position is understandable. They are a fifteen strong collective of unqualified architects trying to create social housing on a disused terrace in collaboration with local residents and others in the Granby Four Streets in Liverpool. Their main aim is to support the vision of local residents for the development of their community. A leading member of the collective Lewis Jones announced that they would only accept the nomination, if it could be used as a platform to help their cause for affordable housing. Another member described the nomination as ‘uncomfortable’ mainly as it highlighted their project as a rarity. This collective never intended to create a unique statement piece, rather were trying to work towards a change in the way social housing is designed. Indeed you can understand the confusion of the architects (simply trying to fight back against recent austerity cuts and complete a job that humans have been doing relatively successfully for thousands of years) to then be told they are being considered for an award of culture significance. Assemble went on to win the prize, which I guess is as statement in itself that a prize marking the pinnacle of British culture this year went to a group fighting against the damage of Cameron’s capitalism. Nevertheless is it demeaning to put this group alongside an artist such as Damien Hirst who put sausages in a frame and stuck jewels on a skull in the name of art?

Bonnie Camplin’s work The Military Industrial Complex I find personally interesting but feel it lacks the cohesiveness required to truly be considered art. Truly it has probably the same artistic value as my desk. Yes filled with loosely related attempted projects, a couple of unfinished sketches, scribbles and notes. But art? I guess I could sit here all day and stare at my desk, pondering the motivations which led me to leave that half eaten biscuit precisely at that angle and analysing the meaning that lies behind the line of crumbs leading up to it, indeed I have done. But if you are anything like me, you could wander the streets and find profundity staring at the juxtaposition between Hussein’s and the majestic architecture of the Taylorian, or the desolation of an empty crisp packet lying dejectedly next to a bin, portraying the futility of all human attempts at controlling cohesive cultural identity. Such an approach surely makes any idea of art as a subject in itself ultimately pointless. It is everywhere so what’s the point of getting so excited about individual pieces, which somehow lack any profundity once they become pretentiously intentional. Why spend hours wandering round an art gallery when I can effectively sit at home and get the same experience, only with the added excitement that I am allowed to eat the exhibitions?

Janice Kerbel was nominated for her operatic work DOUG. This was a surprise, mainly because I swear there are awards designed specifically for this genre. If I were a sculpture or landscape artist I would feel cheated that no-one had bothered nominating me for an Olivier award. If you are going to bother presenting awards at all, you need a cut off point for each category, perhaps if only for sanity’s sake.

Untitled chairs from Infrastruktur by Nicole Wermers is just weird. I get it. It’s deep. It is there to explore the fleetingness of our claim over space, analysing the transition from private to public property in its simplest form. The fact that the coats are permanently stitched to the chairs creates the sense that the temporary moment morphs into the identity of the chair. Oh and she restitched the lining of the coat so that it matched the room. Whatever. Ultimately it’s just a load of coats on the back of chairs. No skill involved. I think I finally understand what I believe art to be. Yes, it should be contemplative and reflect humanity, but it should also reflect some degree of skill, and for me Untitled chairs doesn’t. I’m sorry Nicole Wermers, this is a fascinating concept; a true embodiment of the pretentiously deep ideas of a teenage humanities student. But it isn’t art.

Over recent years the competition itself has lost some of the prestige it held in the mid 1990s when Damien Hurst notably won the award, so arguably this year’s nominations were just an attention grabbing scheme of an outdated institution gagging for attention. Did it work? I guess the fact that I am now writing this article proves a rather lacklustre yes.

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