The winner in 2001 was one Martin Creed, an artistic luminary of whom the drinkers in the saloon bar of the Dog & Duck were likely to have been previously unaware. In awarding Creed the prize the jury praised 'The deftness and breadth of his recent work, as seen in neon pieces such as Work # 203: Everything is going to be alright and Work # 232: The whole world + the work = the whole world.' They admired 'His audacity in presenting a single work in the exhibition, and noted its strength, rigour, wit and sensitivity to the site. Coming out of the tradition of minimal and conceptual art, his work is engaging, wide ranging and fresh'. Such is the prestige attached to this event that Creed was presented with his prize by no less a person than the international celebrity Madonna.
Creed’s citation for the prize brings to our attention that his 'Art is characterised by a gentle but subversive wit and by a minimalism rooted in an instinctive anti-materialism. His often extremely self-effacing works, all titled by number, such as Work No.79 1993, some Blu-Tack kneaded, rolled into a ball and depressed against a wall, or Work No. 88 a sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball, have been characterised as attempts to short-circuit the visually overloaded, choice saturated culture in which we live. They also take their place in the tradition within the avant-garde of making work which appears to have no material value - which resists or defies commodification, even if in vain. Hence his conscious use of mundane and modest materials.'
It is disturbing that this ludicrous drivel has been endorsed by the Director of the Tate Gallery, who chaired the Turner Prize jury, and the TV company Channel 4, who provided the prize money. Let us take a look at the 'audacious' single work that won Creed the prize. Entitled The Lights Going On and Off, it is in fact an empty room in which the lights do just that. In the words of the art critic of the Guardian it is 'the most minimal work ever to win the £20,000 prize, so minimal in fact that many of those who have seen it were unaware it was anything more than dodgy wiring'. Any further comment on its putative artistic merits would be superfluous.
Moving on to poetry, one British poet who has created quite as stir is Benjamin Zephaniah who has been tipped as a future Poet Laureate. However, it is an open question whether such an honour would be acceptable to this literary giant since he very publicly rejected an OBE that was offered to him. Posts which he has accepted, however, are an honorary doctorate in Arts and Humanities from the University of North London and doctorates at the University of Central England and the University of Staffordshire. He has also been appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education to advise on the place of music and art in the National Curriculum. He was a candidate for the post of Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, but inexplicably failed to be appointed.
Zephaniah is always willing to share his profound insights with us, as in an interview with The Bookseller where he opines 'reading is whatever you want it to be - if you read fun books, you'll get fun.' The poet captures the vibrancy of the capital city in his poem This London Breed commissioned by the Museum of London 'I love dis great pollusted place, were pop stars come to live their dreams, here ravers come for drum and bass, and politicians plan their schemes.' No danger of this poet for our times being confused with Wordsworth or Tennyson. What a pity that Zephaniah declined the request of the Metropolitan Police to allow his poem to be used on a poster to attract ethnic recruits.
Recent architecture brings its own depressing litany of eyesores and carbuncles. Examples that come to mind are the extravagantly praised Peckham Library and proposals for the 'Fourth Grace' in Liverpool, However, perhaps worse than either of these is the proposed extension to the Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington, known as a 'The Spiral' and designed by Daniel Libeskind. The concept is typical of much modern thinking since it makes no attempt to accommodate itself visually to its setting. Indeed it does quite the reverse since the juxtaposition deliberately affronts the elegant beauty of the main museum building.
In defence of his design, Libeskind describes it as 'Unashamedly contemporary. I'm not trying to pretend it's another time, another era…the building is not a conventional spiral, it unfolds because of a geometry that is virtually endless. You could continue it on and on. Spiral is more an emblematic word.' He insists his building forges 'A connection between the dynamic and the meditative.' Needless to say Libeskind attracts his share of 'progressive' critical acclaim 'A creator of brilliant, radical designs….(he) leads the cutting edge in contemporary design. Abandoning long cherished ideals of symmetry and geometric regularity, his fractured designs are especially renowned for the way in which they occupy space.' It would be tiresome to recite any more. Both the 'Fourth Grace' and the 'V& A Spiral' encountered financial difficulties and were abandoned, the former being replaced by a characterless slab block. However, this destructive syndrome still continues to flourish as demonstrated by the grotesque extension proposed for Tate Modern.