THE judges of the Turner Prize, Britain's leading award for contemporary art, saved themselves and the Prize itself from further ridicule on Monday night by choosing Tomma Abts' small abstract painting as this year's winner in a poor field of four.

The German-born artist who has lived in Britain for several years got 25'000 pounds for geometrical patterns on a canvas measuring 48 by 38 centimetres, the size she uses for all her work. Although Ms Abts' piece is little more than a precisely executed miniature its importance in the context of the Turner Prize lies in the fact that it is a “painting” rather than an “installation” or “concept” of the kind that has so often won. The last painter to win was Chris Ofili in 1998 and even he managed to avoid the conventional by using elephant dung as his medium. Tomma Abts uses oil or acrylic, working with the canvas laid flat on a worktop and painstakingly builds up the layers of paint until they take a form. She insists that “these forms don't stand for anything, they don't symbolise anything outside the painting, they represent themselves”. Before the winner was announced some concerned voices had been heard saying that the shortlisted finalists were so poor that the Prize should not be awarded this year. That would have been hard on Ms Abts but it would have delivered the message that the Turner Prize has been devalued and some serious rethinking about it is needed.


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