The Year The Turner Came to Town

Every December over at Feeling Listless, Stuart Ian Burns invites fellow bloggers to submit an article. There’s usually a theme and this year’s was ‘Home’ – writing about something significant which happened in your hometown over the past year. I eventually submitted mine a few days ago and here’s a copy of it…

Of course, Liverpool is a fantastically cultural city all the time, we don’t need Governments or EU commissions to tell us we are allowed to be a Capital of Culture for one year then revert to normal. But having this award has meant that we have even more organisations and people wanting to be a part of the action even before 2008 starts. So the Liverpool Biennial have had more money to spend on great public artworks such as Antony Gormley’s Another Place and Richard Wilson’s Turning the Place Over.

We even had the Royal Variety Performance held at the Liverpool Empire, so the poor Queen and Mr Queen had to travel up to Lime St. to endure, I mean enjoy, the best of variety entertainment. The really big thing though was the first non-London Turner Prize for art which this year was held at Tate Liverpool. This was seen as a major coup for the city but in hindsight maybe the hype was a bit overdone. The Tate couldn’t quite bring itself to totally deny Londoners their annual ration of Turner artists so they had a massive retrospective of past winners at Tate Britain.

When the shortlist was announced in May the cameras were there but only so all the journalists and art critics could watch the announcement live without bothering to travel up north. It was a bit embarrassing to be honest as the judges had to wait for a member of staff to write down the questions being phoned in from London and then read them out. Then the shortlist itself and the works the artists were nominated for sounded all a bit serious, political and safe. Yes, all good artists and good works but nothing that was likely to make people all over the nation think ‘Oh yes, must travel to Liverpool to catch that show’

Then the exhibition opened in October and again many people were underwhelmed and unexcited. It was almost as if even the artists thought ‘Well, its only Liverpool and Wallinger is going to win anyway so I’ll just do something quick’ Mark Wallinger’s own entry for this exhibition was his Sleeper video. So I imagined him sitting at home thinking ‘Well its only Liverpool and I’m bound to win anyway for my State Britain piece, so, lets see, I could just post off this video I shot in 2004 for the 05 Venice Biennale. Yep. Job done.’ I’m joking of course, I know the artists wouldn’t think that way but the show did have that sort of feel about it.

The national press did post the required reportage but with little enthusiasm and national TV, even programs such as Newsnight review and the Culture Show who are often scraping the bottom of the barrel to find a cultural event of interest to talk about, steadfastly ignored Liverpool. The evening of the awards came in December and as expected Wallinger won. Channel 4 reported the event live. In some years past the Turner merited an hour or half hour long program. This year it was going to be the 5 minutes following the end of Channel 4 News, then it was to be the last 5 minutes of the news then it was going to be in the middle.

So, of course, we all had to watch the whole news program just to see the very brief announcement (at 19.45). There was also a report about the prize at 19.30 which included a brief shot of me and my wife, Minako. We were not invited to the awards as we are not celeb enough but this shot was taken at the press viewing in October. Ok, having said all that, it was actually a good exhibition. I’m glad it was here and I’m glad I saw it (several times). Maybe its more of a problem with the Turner Prize itself, many think its had its day, time to come up with something new.

Fortunately the good people at Tate Liverpool have been here long enough to realise that you have to add a bit of fun and flair if its happening in this city and so they planted a big black Taxi cab alongside the show with a video screen in the back showing filmed interviews of recent passengers talking about art. Many people thought this was the best thing, it should have won the prize.

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