Art chief attacks critics of Scot's work
THE country's new head of modern art yesterday came to the defence of Nathan Coley, the Scottish Turner Prize runner-up whose work has been panned by the critics.
Simon Groom, the director of modern and contemporary art at the National Galleries of Scotland, accused a prominent London art critic of a personal and "completely unprofessional" attack on the Glasgow artist.
The Turner Prize was awarded this week to Mark Wallinger, the critics' favourite on a shortlist of four artists.
Wallinger won for State Britain, a piece-by-piece recreation of the anti-war protester Brian Haw's 40-metre encampment outside the Houses of Parliament, removed in a police raid in May 2006. It was praised as a bold and powerful art work.
By contrast, Coley's work was described by one critic as "a misjudged aberration".
His exhibition entry included a neon sign that read "There will be no miracles here," framed photographs with the glass sprayed black, and two pieces of wood across doorways.
One critic called Coley the natural Turner winner. But others called him a "makeweight", "the most boring artist in Britain", and said his art was the worst of a bad year.
Mr Groom was curator of the Turner Prize exhibition, staged in the Tate Liverpool instead of London for the first time this year. Only two weeks ago, he began work in Edinburgh. Mr Groom said Wallinger's work was engaged, humorous and relevant. "He is remarkably consistent and inventive."
But he blamed critics' dim view of the 2007 show on the three-hour train ride to Liverpool. "Part of it is the uncomfortableness of having to leave London," he said.
"Nathan has really suffered, in a way that seems to be beyond matters of taste. His art is provocative in a way. I don't think they get it, they don't spend much time with it."
After the prize was announced on Monday, the critic Adrian Searle wrote: "Nathan Coley shrank to the occasion, with one of the most ill-judged Turner prize displays I have seen. Coley's show was at best a misjudged aberration."
Mr Groom said: "It's pretty harsh stuff. If you don't like the art you don't like it, fine. But this seems to be almost on a personal level which I do find completely unprofessional."
Wallinger's State Britain show appeared at the Tate Britain earlier this year. He resurrected Haw's tent, placards and tarpaulin shelter in the gallery.
For the Liverpool exhibition he showed his 2004 film Sleeper, in which he dressed as a bear and prowled a Berlin gallery for ten nights.
Coley was not available for comment yesterday. His art has shown in exhibitions world-wide. In 2002, he was an unofficial "artist in residence" at the trial of two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing. In 2004 his work The Lamp of Sacrifice included scale models of 286 places of worship in Edinburgh.
Last year, on the Isle of Bute, he erected the giant neon sign, "There will be no miracles here", with the words hung on a path between the trees.
A WINNER, 12 YEARS ON
MARK Wallinger first made the Turner Prize shortlist in 1995 - he lost out to Damien Hirst, whose work, Mother and Child Divided, was four tanks containing the severed halves of a cow and its calf.
Wallinger, 48, was known for Ecce Homo, a life-size Christ figure with barbed-wire thorns on his head that went on the fourth plinth in London's Trafalgar Square in 1999.
He hired 15 people for six months to make State Britain, recreating the anti-war camp of Brian Haw, whom he called "the last dissenting voice in Britain". The work was a protest against a law that saw Haw removed from Parliament Square in London.
Wallinger said: "State Britain was the best exhibition on show this year; I don't feel any modesty about that."
Fiona Bradley, the director of Edinburgh's Fruitmarket Gallery and a Turner Prize juror, said: "State Britain is an incredibly powerful work." While his film at the exhibition showed him in a Berlin gallery in a bear suit, the prize was for State Britain, she said.
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