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Published 09/12/2003 email E-MAIL print PRINT

TIDINGS OF JOY: TURNER PRIZE 2003

The 2003 Turner Prize was awarded at Tate Britain on Sunday evening, 7 December. The £20,000 ($34,000) award was picked up by Grayson Perry, who describes himself as a 'transvestite potter from Essex'. This seemed a very justifiable choice. Grayson (alter ego, Claire) produces beautifully crafted vases and urns in ceramic, an ancient medium which he/she has clearly mastered in all its inherent intricacy and timing. There are narrative images on the surfaces of spellbinding yet social realist content, much of which is alarming to the normal
art lover.

The critic Waldemar Januszczak, writing in The Sunday Times on the morning of the award ceremony, rooted for the Chapman Brothers, with their Goya games and anti-war obscenities. Waldemar claimed that in, 'any normal year, Perry might be expected to win'. So, odds-on favourite Grayson/Claire, destined to be runner-up. The jury had run over time by hours in reaching their choice. Presumably there was deadlock between the Chapman supporters, aided by unctuous comments delivered by advocates Norman Rosenthal and Brian Sewell (the brothers had refused to comment on their own work as requested for the entries, so these two august luminaries were wheeled in). But a choice was made, and the Perry supporters won out. However, Waldemar was clearly right — if one took the view that this was just a normal year. The fact is that all the hyped parenthesis about this being an exceptional year was misplaced. Much had been made by the organisers of this year being the 20th anniversary year and so accordingly it had to be exceptional.

But not so. The ceremony at Tate Modern had a curiously anodyne style and atmosphere. Homage was paid to past Tate Directors; here was a round of applause to a glistening, grey-haired (but not bewigged, surely just permed)
Sir Alan Bowness. And even more tight-lipped than ever, a Scrooge-like Sir Nicholas Serota then climaxed to introduce Sir Peter Blake, third of this trio of British Empire Knights. Sir Peter skilfully played things down, sensing the escalation; a rousing cheer went up as he passed the cheque to a delighted Claire Perry, truly Alice in Wonderland with a touch of Bo-Peep, and formidably bewigged.

At the British Museum on 12 December 2004 there opens a superb exhibition, entitled 'Enlightenment'. The ceramic Greek vases contain narrative, words and pictures. To set Grayson Perry's work truly in perspective, one can experience the consummate potter's skill as a triumph of technology. Nothing else underpins so effectively the achievement of Grayson Perry.

One might also add that this award is a victory for humour. The architect Will Alsop is to be commended in a current interview for saying, 'life without joy is the biggest threat to society'. The Turner was a battle between two veins of humour. The Chapmans love a laugh, but at someone else's expense. Grayson Perry joyfully incorporates self-parody with a curious grace. Grayson/Claire makes us feel good. The message is profound, but it does not deny the medium. It was humour that characterised both Perry and Chapman entries. But Perry had the premium on joy itself.



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