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By Neil Spencer (31 October, 1993, Observer)
Neil Spencer looks at the spoilers aiming to undermine the Turner Award by giving double the prize money to whoever comes bottom
WHOEVER wins it, the 1993 Turner Prize is already looking like a tarnished trophy. The bloom on the Turner's brass has been stolen by a rival prize, the 1994 K Foundation Award which, at pounds 40,000, guarantees one of the nominees on the Turner shortlist double the money, albeit for the year's worst, rather than best, body of work.
Funded by pop pranksters Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty best known as KLF, under which name they scored a series of chart-topping singles between 1988 and 1992 the first K Foundation Award promises to be an explosive cultural guerrilla raid on the art establishment.
Given a history of antics which include dumping a dead sheep in the lobby of the Royal Lancaster Hotel before the 1992 Brits awards dinner there at the dinner itself Drummond collected the award for best British band on crutches, toting a machine gun the handover of the K Foundation's pounds 40,000, in cash, will doubtless be accompanied by a stunt calculated to upstage the Turner prize-giving.
What the duo have in mind, and why they are bothering, remains unknown, though they have promised something 'more subtle' than a freshly-slaughtered ewe. Come what may, pounds 40,000 seems an inordinately expensive way to cock a snook at the art world, especially when you add the cost of the full-page advertisements which appeared in the national press this summer announcing, with cryptic slogans such as 'Abandon all art now', 'Divide and kreate' and 'Time is running in', the initiative.
Phase two of this campaign begins next week, when an advertisment in The Observer will announce how the K Foundation intends to present its award, and poses provocative questions about art. Although it has been widely assumed that Drummond's and Cauty's current cultural activities are simply part of a promotion campaign for a new record, the pair are adamant that they when left the music business last year ('pulled out at the fourteenth minute,' as they put it) it was for ever.
Among the back catalogue they deleted were various bizarre hits 'Doctoring The Tardis', a 1988 number one recorded as 'The Timelords', and the KLF's '3 a.m. Eternal' and 'It's Grim Up North'. Wackiest of all was 'Justified and Ancient', for which they recruited the country and western star Tammy Wynette to sing a rave anthem about an ice-cream van. She emerged baffled but richer when the record reached number one.
A version of 'Que Sera Sera' recorded with the Red Army Choir earlier this year, and retitled 'K Cera Cera', will, says K Foundation, be released only after the outbreak of world peace. Until then the only place to hear it will be at carefully selected public gatherings. Annoyingly for Drummond and Cauty, the Glastonbury Festival and the FA Charity Shield game at Wembley both turned down the offer of launching it.
Even given their long history of waggish behaviour, the motives behind the pair's latest initiative remain obscure. The nearest they have offered to an explanation is a press statement: 'Driven by dark demons and an inescapable sense of responsibility to do the right thing, we are forced, in the only way we know, to further the advancement of Kreation.'
Both Drummond and Cauty have their own claims to artistic fame. Drummond, a 6ft 5ins Glaswegian, is a former trawlerman who went on to work as a set designer for Liverpool theatre anarchist Ken Campbell before managing the successful Eighties rock bank Echo & the Bunnymen.
Cauty is a former graphic designer who, at the age of 17, was responsible for a best-selling Athena poster of the Hobbit, and who can justly say he has adorned more walls than any of the Turner nominees.
The pair seems to have decided that in the art racket, where people are paid enormous sums of money for the likes of a plaster and polystyrene air bed (one of Rachel Whiteread's works), they have met their match in lucrative scams.
A grand deflation of the pretensions of the wealthy art elite is an aim that has drawn approval from sections of the art world and philistines who find 'installations' of knotted rope or beds covered in rice curiously unmoving. Numerous painters and sculptors have written to K-central to say that if the foundation is determined to empty coffers swollen from the proceeds of international pop hits, there are artists more deserving than those on the Turner shortlist.
So far, the Turner organisers have greeted the K Foundation's intervention with insouciance. 'It will stimulate discussion of contemporary art,' claims Nicholas Serota of the Tate. Whiteread, who has said she will happily take the KF's pounds 40,000, was more curt, calling the award 'a badly-researched joke'.
Perhaps, but the joke may yet prove to be at the expense of the Turner. And with the announcement that the K Foundation Award will be given for different reasons each year, other targets loom invitingly. This year the Turner, next year the Booker?
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