The Turner Prize Affair
The other Steve McQueen makes good

If you had been given a name like Steve McQueen, chances are that you would want to avoid the movie game. You can imagine the kind of telephone conversations that you would have every day: "Hi, it's Steve McQueen here... no not that Steve McQueen... no, no relation... hello... hello?" But this didn't put off a 30-year-old London-born artist of that name whose short films have just scooped the UK's most prestigious art award, the £20,000 Turner Prize, in defiance of the bookmakers.

See also...
... by Iain Aitch
... in the Scope section
... from December 28, 1999

Amsterdam-based McQueen studied film at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, but left after one year as they "wouldn't let you throw the camera up in the air." He later experimented with this kind of irresponsible camera hurling in his works Catch and Drumroll. The latter was made by rolling an oil drum containing video cameras through the streets of Manhattan.

McQueen isn't very blond at all, or very skinny, and he doesn't ride a motorbike either, so maybe it's the annoyance over the name that led him to make art out of Hollywood product. His most talked about film is his Turner Prize show exhibit Deadpan, which made its debut at MOMA in New York. The black-and-white film recreates Buster Keaton's famous stunt from his 1928 movie Steamboat Bill, Jr. -- McQueen stands stock-still as the side of a wooden house falls on top of him. Luckily for him, the one window frame in the wall falls over his head and saves him from being crushed to death.

His work is far removed from that of the bookie's favorite, brash egoist Tracey Emin. Less cluttered and less immediate, it reveals nothing about the artist. At the televised award ceremony he mumbled just a few words of thanks and then made his great escape -- waltzing straight past art critic Matthew Collings who was hosting the show. His victory was greeted by the London Evening Standard with a cover photo of Tracey Emin "not winning the Turner Prize." McQueen was tucked away on page five.

To reach McQueen's work in the Turner Prize exhibition you have to wander through the work of the other three nominated artists, including Tracey Emin's bed and her stained panties with the blob of menstrual blood. You have to step over the mass of people in the dark room where her (magnificent) seven videos are on show. You are halted by Jane and Louise Wilson's engaging projections, before joining the throng muttering "but this is crap" at Steven Pippin's Laundromat photographs. (They were snapped using washing machines.)

On arriving at McQueen's exhibit, you find yourself with a choice of three rooms, each showing a different video. The visitors seem confused. They duck in and out of the rooms, usually staying just a few seconds in each. Some do linger, looking a bit bored, as if they have not understood or been drawn in. Their main concern seems to be "have I stood here staring long enough so that it looks like I get it? I don't want to look like a Philistine."

David Lee, editor of Art Review, thinks that the whole Turner show was a towering inferno of shit, but he singled out McQueen's work for particular attention. "His videos are so boring that they must be about something somewhere," he said. "You can say virtually anything you like about his because they are utterly inconsequential." Lee is of the opinion that they might as well give the prize "to the one with the biggest tits."

By my estimation this would have meant victory for Emin. Though I can safely say that McQueen's burgeoning man breasts would have put him third.

Iain Aitch is just bitter because he had his money on Tracey Emin.