Saturday 5 May 2018

PERFECT HARMONY - The Coverage of Politically Motivated Art by The BBC

A guest post by Loondon Calling...

A Fashionable Marriage, 1986

Accompanied by fanfares of publicity the 2017 Turner Prize was awarded last month in Hull, the 2017 UK City of Culture. The winner of the 2017 prize was Lubaina Himid based in Preston. 

The BBC report of the award ceremony echoed with the resonance between them and the Tate Gallery over the true nature of the Turner Prize. 

From Wikipedia … 
The Turner Prize, named after the English painter J. M. W. Turner, is an annual prize presented to a British visual artist. Between 1991 and 2016, only artists under the age of 50 were eligible (this restriction was removed for the 2017 award)… 
From Analysis by Will Gompertz, BBC arts editor: 
… Lubaina Himid's Turner win is being put down to the well-documented rule change that did away with its 50-or-younger age restriction, which had been in place since 1991. Clearly, the 63-year-old artist wouldn't - couldn't - have won without the removal of the age cap. But there was another, less publicised rule change this year that also benefited her. For the first time the jurors were allowed to take into account the work each artist displayed in the Turner Prize exhibition. 
"What?" you may ask. "Hasn't that always been the case? Why wouldn't they take the exhibition the public see - and therefore judge by - into account?" 
Goodness knows why, but they didn't. Which might help explain some of the previous winners, and certainly makes sense of Himid receiving the contemporary art award for an exhibition packed with work she made some time ago.* 
Her tableau A Fashionable Marriage, a satirical and political 1980s take on a scene from Hogarth's 18th Century series Marriage A-la Mode, was the single best work of art in the entire Turner Prize exhibition. 
It would have been a worthy winner when she made it in 1986 and - thanks to the rule change - it was a worthy winner last night… 
… The star of the piece for Hogarth is, of course, the Countess, who has recently had a baby, so lounges casually at her dressing table, having spent the previous afternoon at the auction rooms, while her husband, the earl, is away. She is having her hair done. She is Margaret Thatcher, the first and therefore the last woman prime minister of Britain, leader of the Conservative party, champion of business, destroyer of the unions, the welfare state and staunch supporter of apartheid…. 
The vilification of Margaret Thatcher is a familiar theme from the BBC, but this art piece from Himid gives an opportunity to reinforce their bias against Thatcher and the Conservative Party. 

In previous posts, we have seen how the BBC likes to absorb events such as the Turner Prize, the Stirling Prize and the RA Summer Exhibition into their narrative. The 2017 Turner Prize must have been a gift, offering a free hit at Thatcher’s memory, Himid receiving publicity for her political views and being the first black female winner to score points for inclusivity etc etc. 

From the Tate Modern Home Page: … 
Tate Modern is Britain’s new national museum of modern art. As class compositions change, each new economic force takes over the mantle of British taste. Each succeeding social elite must have its art, its brand which secret codes and systems of value can be exchanged. This is usually in the form of what is to be tolerated and what is not, what’s in and what’s out, who’s in and who’s out. New money needs to be a part of history. With money you can buy your way into art history. With even more money you can shape that future history…. 
*From Wikipedia again: 
…. Artists are chosen based upon a showing of their work that they have staged in the preceding year….


The trend is set to continue with this early signal from the BBC Arts and Entertainment pages of the BBC News website with reference to 2018: 

The piece draws our attention to the work of a group known as Forensic Architecture, based at Goldsmiths, University of London, which creates "3D models of sites of conflict" to help prove wrongdoing. 
‘Naeem Mohaiemen, Charlotte Prodger and Luke Willis Thompson complete the list.’  
Naeem Mohaiemen: … ‘Born in London and raised in Bangladesh, Mohaiemen makes films that use turbulent periods in world history to focus on the legacies of colonialism, national identity, left-wing politics and migration….  
Charlotte Prodger: … ‘Glasgow-based Prodger is nominated for two videos. One was shot on iPhones and named Bridgit after the Neolithic deity. The other traces a history of recent video formats and the artist's personal history. The jury praised her for "the nuanced way in which she deals with identity politics, particularly from a queer perspective”….  
Luke Willis Thompson: … ‘The 30-year-old New Zealander makes silent black-and-white 16mm and 35mm films inspired by stop-and-search policies and killings. His films include one made with Diamond Reynolds, who used Facebook to broadcast the aftermath of the fatal shooting of her partner Philando Castile by a police officer in 2016…. 
Born Dead, 2016

Further searching reveals more about Luke Willis Thompson and a piece Born Dead 2016: …. 
Sucu Mate – Born Dead (2016) is the result of an extended investigative process into the Old Balawa Estate Cemetery, a cemetery with a history of slavery in the Pacific island nation of Fiji. Luke Willis Thompson applied for custodial rights to a small selection of gravestones within the racially zoned site. In 2015, official approval was given to the artist from Fiji’s governing institutions to excavate anonymous material from the worker’s section, itself a former sugarcane plantation. The concrete markers were permitted to travel out of Fiji for a period of 24 months to be exhibited as art objects, and are presented here after being shown in Auckland and Brisbane. The work is, in this way, a mobile cemetery, and one that questions how human lives and dead bodies are inscribed in the order of power. The project will continue with the grave-markers’ repatriation to Fiji and resituated within the same field from which they came. In such a way the project simultaneously prototypes both a historical continuity and the performance of dislocation; two cultural operations with national relevance as the islands within Fiji face ecological change and the continuing submergence of their lowlands. 
Back to the BBC piece about the 2018 shortlist: …. 
Shortlist is right on the money - BBC arts editor Will Gompertz…  
…. If there are two themes that bring them all together, they are that they all work in film and they're all deeply politically engaged.  
We're going to get four films at least and maybe a bit of installation, which are going to look at the world in which we're living and all its complexities and blurred lines, with a very sharp political edge criticising the establishment's view of fact.  
The art world is becoming a very politically engaged forum and I think this Turner Prize is right on the money in showcasing three artists and one collective who are questioning the world we live in, in a way perhaps artists haven't done in the recent past…. 
I have been careful not to comment upon the quality of the artwork exhibited. Instead, it is in the looseness of rule-making that allows these political messages to be at the forefront of British art that should be of concern. 

Here are the rule changes: 

Artists are chosen based upon a showing of their work that they have staged in the preceding year - not any longer. 

Rule change that did away with its 50-or-younger age restriction, which had been in place since 1991. This helped the 2017 winner and has remained in place (as far as I know). 

Jurors were allowed to take into account the work each artist displayed in the Turner Prize exhibition - a change in 2017 which has stayed in place for 2018. 

The Turner Prize, named after the English painter J. M. W. Turner, is an annual prize presented to a British visual artist. How does ‘LUKE WILLIS THOMPSON 1988, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND. LIVES IN AUCKLAND’ work in this case? 

It appears that The Turner Prize has been changed from its original form, first and foremost to engage a closely drawn group of activist/artists who promote a political message. The BBC, if not instrumental in the rule changes themselves, are clearly in full agreement with them - especially Will. 


  1. Is that a typo in the first sentence: "...earlier this month..."?

    It's worth reading the guide notes from your link within a link to get the full flavour of what she is about:
    Born in Tanzania and it's all black this, that and the other: identity, creativity, slavery and legacy, Africa, diaspora, institutional invisibility - she's black, have you got that? and to top it all, we learn that she appropriates European artists...yes, it does say that - this has the full works.

    The jury of four who selected the winner is also worth a look: two of them are based in Berlin (well, in one case Berlin and Glasgow and referred to as "they" - it is impossible to tell whether "they" is he or she); one in New York; and one of the four is based in England, although there are those who would dispute that London is anything to do with England; it's certainly not in Hull and neither is Berlin, New York or Glasgow.

    At least Himid paints, or at least did in 1986 but for this year's Turner - aren't they taking his name in vain or something - they don't even bother. The Tate might as well call itself the British Film Institute. They are all pointing phones and cameras instead of paint brushes and submitting films for the prize. Why a New Zealander qualifies is anyone's guess. It's one of those mysteries like Australia competing in the Eurovision Song Contest.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out. I've corrected it now. That was my fault not Loondon Calling's!

  2. Monkey Brains5 May 2018 at 20:11

    PC multiculturalism is a deadly disease. It first infected academia, then the media, business, literature and now the visual arts. Wherever it takes hold it substitutes quotas for quality, censorship for free speech, and introspection for inquiry. Can you imagine how a Lucien Freud would be treated were he to emerge now? The Police would be called in. MPs would condemn him in Parliament. Mary Beard would grimace and laughingly dismiss his poor daubs as sexist rubbish.
    As for Turner he benefitted from the largesse of the Egremont aristocratic family who had been involved in slavery in the Caribbean - he was v. friendly with the Earl who maintained a harem of 15 mistresses. As for Turner himself he committed his own mother to Bedlam asylum and never once visited her, used prostitutes, and painted plenty of "male gaze" obscene stuff ...but for some reason the PC art brigade give him a free pass. :)

  3. Before this item goes into the archive, it's worth mentioning that film as a medium for the Turner Prize restricts the number of members of the public who actually see the art work to almost nil. Therefore, it is entirely out of the hands of the 'consumer' as to the reaction to the work.

    The 2018 entrants, once chosen, will have very little feed-back from the public. There will, therefore, be no sense of public endorsement to the judges' opinions.


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