In 2010, Norman Lebrecht, British commentator on music and cultural affairs, had an idea for England’s coveted contemporary art award, the Turner Prize: a performance of John Cage’s “4'33" - a musical composition without sound in which orchestras play nothing while the conductor turns pages, as if following a score. The idea is that audiences hear only the sounds around them and interpret them in their own way.
Given all the winners out of keeping of a prize named after a Romantic landscape painter, the idea of a soundless concert would fit right in. I’m thinking of Damien Hirst who scored with a cow pickled in formaldehyde. Tracy Emin ranked with “My Bed,” a berth of rumpled sheets stained with bodily secretions on a floor strewn with condoms and menstrual blood. And David Shrigley has been shortlisted for a “sculpture” of a stuffed Jack Russell holding in its paws a sign reading “I’m dead.” Turner Prize judges praised Shrigley’s work for his “black humor.”
Ironic, isn't it? J.M.W. Turner, known as the “painter of light” has a prize in his honor that honored darkness.
Turner Prize 2013 also shortlists Shrigley for his 7-foot manikin of a nude male posed as if a model in a life drawing class. Visitors are welcome to draw the figure and mount their drawings on the surrounding walls.
Wait, there’s more. A bucket is set beneath the figure because it pees. Presumably the action is meant to prompt laughter and loosen up those who might find the sight of a urinating nude male embarrassing.
One wonders if a Shrigley win would embarrass Turner. The painter was aces at illuminating the moods of Nature, not the whims of a clown.