The announcement of the shortlist for this year’s Turner Prize has coincided neatly with a short-lived heatwave in the UK that sent Londoners leaping out of their winter clothes to bask grimly on any available patches of unshaded ground. Notwithstanding the capricious British weather, these two incidents tend to run together; the Turner Prize has long entered the national consciousness as a summer season space-filler, dependably absurd and apparently easy to describe in a breezy article next to some breasts. The fact that the YBAs made (some still do) art of a graphic bluntness that made their work translatable in the punchy prose of the tabloids (Shark in a Tank! Unmade Bed! Cow in a Tank! Lights Going On And Off! etc) is of a piece with the now sometimes embarrassing ballsy nationalism of the late 1990s, which reached its nadir, in a classic example of her inverse Midas touch, with Madonna stepping in and swearing live on TV, British art’s very own ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment.
The media exposure, though, did at least mean that contemporary art was, for perhaps the first time, a regular staple on letters pages, editorials and gossip pages, a position which has arguably had an effect on artistic practice itself (see the gradual domination of Banksy). The latest Turner Prize line-up, though, is largely in line with current vogues in contemporary art: cautious, careful arrangements of found objects with a fairly disturbing suggestiveness; quiet, contemplative, somewhat minimalist video; tongue-in-cheek allusions to modernist art history and popular culture; post-Hans Haacke blurring of curatorial and artistic boundaries. None of which has resulted in much of a fuss. Even the usually dependable Daily Mirror has struggled to find much to get upset about, not generally being known as Haacke purists.
Is this a sign of the growing acceptance of contemporary art by the broader public? Or are artists retreating from engaging with the language of popular taste?