Mannequin on toilet bids for top art prize

LONDON (Reuters) - A mannequin perched on the toilet vied with a cartoon cat on Tuesday to land the Turner Prize, the controversial award that annually sparks a heated debate about what is art.

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Critics may lambaste the shortlist as pretentious claptrap but the Turner has recognised Britart stars like Damien Hirst and the exhibition attracts up to 70,000 fans a year.

Not a single painter made the shortlist for the 2008 Turner, which is dominated by filmmakers and video artists.

Mark Leckey splices together images of the Simpsons, presents clips from the Titanic movie and confesses to an obsession with cartoon star Felix The Cat.

Cathy Wilkes displays shop mannequins squatting on the toilet and sitting with leftover bits of dried porridge at their feet.

Bangladeshi-born Runa Islam re-creates cult cinema scenes from Ingmar Bergman films along with footage from the car park used in the Michael Caine thriller “Get Carter”.

Polish-born Goshka Macuga, described as a “cultural archaeologist”, draws inspiration from the 1919 German horror movie “The Cabinet of Dr Caligari”.

The Turner, first awarded in 1984, is open to British-based artists under the age of 50. Their work is showcased from October at London’s Tate Britain museum and the winner of the 25,000 pound award is announced on December 1.

Stephen Deuchar, Tate Britain director and chairman of the 2008 jury, said of this year’s shortlist: “The works are not especially easy this time.”

“The audience for contemporary British Art has now become incredibly sophisticated. These are not just one-liners,” he told Reuters at the shortlist launch.

But what of the critics who rail against the Turner as a travesty of modern art and the tabloid newspapers who habitually mock its shortlist?

“This is art made by people for people,” Deuchar retorted.

“What is vital about the Turner prize is that it creates informed debate about art. People are not frightened to argue about its merits and de-merits.”

Damien Hirst won the Turner in 1995 with a pickled cow. Chris Ofili daubed his 1998 winning entries with elephant dung.

Martin Creed won in 2001 with an empty room containing a light that switched on and off. Pop superstar Madonna swore live on television when presenting him with the award.

But perhaps the award for the most bizarre costume should go to transvestite potter Grayson Perry. He turned up to collect his 2003 prize in a frilly Shirley Temple dress.

Editing by Kate Kelland and Paul Casciato