Nick Hackworth

A serious eye for the absurd

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

The Tate and Channel 4, the Turner Prize’s sponsor, must have been delighted, because they got a wonderful media moment when Grayson Perry, dressed as his female alter-ego Claire, stepped up to accept the award. Resplendent in a shiny embroidered dress, frilly white socks and delicate red shoes, he beamed and with humorous self-deprecation commented: “It’s about time a transvestite potter won the Turner Prize.”

Throw in the images carved into Perry’s attractive, ornamental pots — which depict, amongst other things, dead children, teddy-bears with erections and sexually repressed members of the middle classes secretly exorcising their perversions by moonlight — and once again the Turner Prize has succeeded in courting controversy. This may annoy and even disgust some people, but it shouldn’t.

Firstly, because the Turner Prize is what it is, a media event designed to generate publicity for contemporary art, and so not worth taking too seriously. Secondly, because Perry was in fact a reasonably good pick for a winner. Of the four nominees, he was my second choice. The Chapmans were the strongest and should have won. For over a decade they have played with our ideas of horror and perversion with intelligence and malevolent satirical intent.

To a lesser degree, but in sharp contrast with the other two shortlisted artists, who are dull and worthy, Perry shares this carnivalesque tendency to explore and celebrate the darker side of life with an engaging mix of humour and seriousness. This is a sensibility that should be applauded and encouraged to flourish, since it speaks of a true appreciation of human nature unfettered by the farcical constraints of political correctness.

Also like the Chapmans, Perry has an acute sense of the absurd nature of contemporary art and the museums in which it is displayed. Public museums are relatively modern inventions, through which millions pass in pursuit of some ill-defined aesthetic or intellectual enlightenment. Perry, however, has everyone’s number.

On one pot he has a little girl address the viewer with the amusing and charming line “F**k off you middle-class tourist.” The insult is simultaneously aimed at the visitor, critic, curator and museum and does its job rather well, exposing the silliness and pomposity of it all.

Art is dead! Long live Art!