The twenty-third Turner Prize was awarded to the amiable Mark Wallinger on Monday evening, the ceremony taking place outside London for the first time – at Tate Liverpool, on Merseyside, to be precise.
To use the terminology of art, the event was Ironically Postmodern with Surreal overtones. Former winner Grayson Perry attended in a baby doll dress in Everton Blue. The prize was awarded by Dennis Hopper, whom the Controller Of All Tates, Nicholas Serota, described as “a legendary actor, director and biker”. It had been rumoured that Hopper was to ride into Tate Liverpool on a Harley-Davidson, but in the event he just walked rather meekly on to stage, confessing in an actorly way to the bewilderment of “a farm boy from Dodge City” at having been invited to present “the most prestigious prize in the whole art world”.
The principal leitmotif of the pre-award speeches involved prominent members of the London art world standing up and saying in public how much they loved and admired Liverpool. Nicholas Serota made the point that the Turner Prize had been brought to Liverpool to celebrate the city’s status as European Capital of Culture in 2008. He had an unfortunate way, however, of making the word “capital” sound exactly as if it really meant “desert”.
Serota expressed the deepest gratitude imaginable to Dennis Hopper for having come all the way to Liverpool from “his home in Los Angeles”, and noted the film star’s utterly remarkable dedication to art – so remarkable, in fact, that Hopper had spent two whole days in the city. No one knew for sure, but there was speculation that this astonishing feat of endurance might establish a new record for a resident of Los Angeles, perhaps even for an American, full stop. The Americans who own Liverpool Football Club certainly never stay in the city for much more than ninety minutes, if they can possibly help it.
Hopper tore open the envelope with the demeanour of a man for whom two days in Liverpool was more than enough, and thrust a cheque into the hands of Mark Wallinger. Wallinger had been the bookies’ favourite, not just because they thought he was the artist the most likely to win, but because he was definitely the artist who had spent most time in the bookies (he once even owned a racehorse, called A Real Work of Art).
The artist looked more relieved than delighted, which was understandable given that he had already been nominated once – and given that the other shortlisted artists were either relatively inexperienced, or had produced work for the Turner Prize exhibition so abject that it really would have been humiliating to lose to it. Sadly, although the Turner Prize was originally modelled on the Miss World competition, the names of those in contention are not read out in reverse order, so it was impossible to establish who had come last. It had presumably been a close call between Nathan Coley and Mike Nelson. Nathan Coley’s idea of a challenging work had been to put a block of oak in the doorway of the gallery, to trip up people as they entered the display – a gambit predictably nullified by the people from Health and Safety, who had simply stationed a gallery attendant nearby, whose job it was to tell each and every visitor to “mind the step”. Mike Nelson’s principal offering was a stack of wood arranged into the configuration of a campfire, with red plastic triangles attached as flames. At least Wallinger’s contribution had been funny and curiously poignant. He had filmed himself wandering through the empty spaces of Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin at night, wearing a bear costume – an unusual essay in the mode of political carnivalesque, this light, strange allegory of the hauntings of the Russian past.
But Wallinger knew, and his audience knew, that he had really been given the award for last year’s installation State Britain – a complete recreation of Brian Haw’s protest camp in Parliament Square, painstakingly transplanted to the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain. He pulled an envelope out of his pocket and made a makeshift speech at the end of which he expressed his solidarity with Haw and voiced his disgust at the present government’s foreign policy. At which point the British art world got on with doing what it does best of all – getting very drunk.
The canapés at Tate Liverpool were International City of Culture with a scouse twist: black pudding with apple slices; lobster dripping with salad cream; tortellini of processed cheese in a mushy pea sauce, and so on. After the party at Tate Liverpool, there was an after-party party at a place called the Cyan Room. It was here that The Sunday Telegraph managed to secure a brief but world-exclusive interview with the winning artist. Like any self-respecting man of the turf, he chose to reflect on this crowning glory of his career in racing metaphors. He felt as though he had finally won the Gold Cup, he said, and was glad that he had proved that he could stay the distance. “The world is full of artists who don’t get the trip,” he philosophised, a remark that should perhaps be printed in large letters on the doors to most art schools. He wouldn’t be drawn on exactly what he was going to do with his winner’s cheque for £25,000, but perhaps answered the question in a roundabout way when saying that he really fancied Kato’s Star to win the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. And with that, the winner of the Turner Prize for 2007 disappeared back into the fray.