This year's 20,000 Turner Prize, the most controversial honor in British contemporary art, has gone to 43-year-old transvestite potter Grayson Perry. The upset victory -- the bookies favored the London art world's own Brothers Grimm, Jake and Dinos Chapman -- was as subtly shocking as are Perry's stealth objects, seemingly decorative ceramic vases with explicit phallic imagery and disturbing scenes of child abuse scratched onto their surfaces [see "Turner Prize 2003," Oct. 29, 2003].
Collecting the award dressed in full drag as his alter ego Claire, Perry acknowledged the support of the art scene in general, but didn't have a huge "thank you" list. "I only want to thank one person, my wife Philippa. She's been my best editor, sponsor, supporter and mainly my lover. Thank you," he said. Spoken like a true family man!
Perry also expressed his delight at winning the prize. "It was dramatic, I was shocked. It's about time a transvestite potter won the Turner Prize. I think the art world had more difficulty coming to terms with me being a potter than with my choice of frocks."
Tailor-made for the occasion, Perry's purple satin dress was decorated with a green bow and embroidered with rabbits and words such as "sissy." "This is my Turner Prize acceptance dress. . . . It has motifs of innocent childhood. The world is a scary place when you're a sensitive plant like me," he said. "People get humor and reality muddled up. I use humor in my work."
Sir Peter Blake, who presented the award to Perry, made no secret of the fact that he expected to present it to the Chapman Brothers, who were reported to be blaming each other for their failure to win. The silence at the table of the "Saatchi gang" spoke volumes about the reaction of the Chapmans' famous patron.
To add insult to injury, a group of artists known as the Stuckists, who campaign for traditional artistry, were staging a demonstration outside the official award dinner with a blow-up sex doll from a Soho sex shop. A clear shot at the Chapmans' entry Death, the Stuckists posed the barbed question of whether there was any difference between the Turner Prize and a porno parlor.
Perry said he would divvy the prize money up between motor bikes, Philippa, his daughter's school fees and his dress maker.
The jury's choice raised the question of whether the award was honoring a Perry's craft or his concept, a dichotomy that has been an albatross around the brilliant artist's neck for the last 20 years.
"I'm not a standard bearer for ceramics" says Perry. "People say, 'Is the art world accepting ceramics?' I say, 'No, they're accepting Grayson Perry'."
Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota agreed. "I don't think the choice is a strategic choice, I think the jury felt strongly that these were the works of a very strong artist who happens to be using ceramics and drawing. I don't think this is 'the year of the pot'."
So is this the year of the pot? Not!