For some years now, the excellent English monthly review of books Literary Review has sponsored a Bad Sex Contest. Readers submit preposterous descriptions of sex from the current crop of novels, and the editors at the Literary Review have the delicate task of choosing the most awful candidate. Needless to say, there is always an embarrassment of riches. The winning submission is regularly accompanied by any number of honorable mentions. The same spirit informs the Bad Writing Contest sponsored by the scholarly journal Philosophy and Literature. Winners of that contest have included Homi Bhabha, Fredric Jameson, and Judith Butler—a triumvirate of absurd figures whose unintentionally laughable writing richly deserves the obloquy conferred upon it by the Bad Writing Contest.

With these noble precedents in mind, we would like to suggest that the Tate Gallery in England consider renaming the once-prestigious Turner Prize. In recent years, the £20,000 prize has been given to a rogues gallery of artistic charlatans: Gilbert and George, Damien Hirst, the Chapman brothers, among others. This year, the chief contender is a woman called Tracey Emin. Her short-listed submission is called “My Bed.” Here is a description of it from the London Daily Telegraph:

Emin shows one new work, supposedly her own unmade bed, complete with torn pillows and urine-stained sheets, surrounded by ashtrays full of smoked fags, a box of sanitary towels, medicines, nylons, soiled underpants, a candle, a pregnancy test—the sad detritus of a life marked by physical illness and emotional disorder. On the gallery wall there’s a neon sign in Emin’s own script that says “Every Part of Me’s Bleeding,” an appliquéd wall hanging (“F--- School”), and a wall of her scribbly drawings, in most of which the word “F---” is scrawled like an incantation, a guarantee of authenticity.

Joseph Mallord William Turner was one of the greatest painters England ever produced. Isn’t it time to remove his name from a prize that travesties everything Turner stood for? The Tate Gallery does not employ the wicked satire that the Literary Review and Philosophy and Literature wield in their admirable contests. But a simple desire for truth in advertising demands that the Turner Prize be renamed. The simplest and most truthful alternative is readily at hand: the Bad Art Contest. We offer it to the Tate Gallery free and without charge.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 18 Number 4, on page 3
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