Bottom marks for Turner prize as culture minister vents his spleen

"If this is the best British artists can produce then British art is lost. It is cold, mechanical, conceptual bullshit," opines culture minister Kim Howells.

The blunt language may lack the erudition of Britain's finest art critics, but the review wins full marks for stridency.

Kim Howells, the outspoken culture minister, has condemned the four entries shortlisted for this year's Turner prize as "conceptual bullshit".

Angered by the standards of this year's contenders, which include a grunt-by-grunt transcription of an American porn film, Mr Howells has pegged an expletive-laden comment card to the wall at Tate Britain where the Turner exhibition is being held.

Mr Howells, who is better known as a Labour heart throb at Westminster, vented his spleen when he wrote: "If this is the best British artists can produce then British art is lost. It is cold, mechanical, conceptual bullshit."

Signing the card Kim Howells, he then came back for more when he added a postscript. "The attempts at contextualisation are particularly pathetic and symptomatic of a lack of conviction."

A fan of Lucian Freud and Jackson Pollock, Mr Howells erupted after the Turner judges lived up to their reputation by shortlisting four artists whose work was dubbed by yesterday's Guardian as "stomach churning". Fiona Banner, 37, from Merseyside, created Arsewoman in Wonderland by transcribing a porn film onto a billboard which also includes her sex fantasies.

Catherine Yass, 39, from London submitted a film in which retching in the dark can be heard in the first two minutes. Yass buzzed BBC Broadcasting House in London with a camera attached to a toy helicopter for her film.

Liam Gillick, 39, from Aylesbury, has covered a ceiling with brightly coloured Perspex squares. Keith Tyson, 33, from Cumbria, takes a more conventional route. He has produced a fantasy remodelling of the front page of The Times.

Critics are likely to dismiss Mr Howell's outburst as the unsophisticated ramblings of an amateur. But he remained unrepentant, telling the Financial Times: "If this is the best that the British art establishment can come up with, God help us. It consists entirely of conceptual bullshit and the final insult was to walk through a room of Francis Bacons and Henry Moores that exude artistic ability and humanity."

His remarks will revive the debate about the £20,000 Turner prize, which infuriates traditionalists. Past works have included Tracey Emin's soiled bed and Damien Hirst's pickled cows.

Mr Howell, a popular figure on the Labour benches who is one of the few ministers to speak his mind, has raised eyebrows in the past. He described the royal family last year as "all a bit bonkers" and had to apologise after saying in a Commons debate that "the idea of listening to three Somerset folk singers sounds like hell".

Downing Street is unlikely to be alarmed at Mr Howells' decision to pick a fight with the Turner judges, although there may be unease at his language. Labour MPs will laugh at his outburst which will raise the profile of the Pontypridd MP who has languished in the junior ministerial ranks for five years despite having one of the sharpest minds in the Welsh Labour party.


Nicholas Watt, political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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