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What are the Turner prize celebrities, such as Damien Hirst, up to? Are they legitimately challenging our ideas of what art is? Or, by calling their works "art," do they encourage us to see a continuity between themselves and the old masters that does not exist? Do we need a new word to describe what they do?

By John Armstrong   December 1998

Whoever is awarded this year’s Turner prize on 1st December, we can be sure of one thing: a flurry of articles will appear in the press denying or insisting (mainly denying) that these strange exhibits are proper recipients of the prestigious title “art.”

There is some justice in this. After all, the works short-listed for the prize belong to a tradition which places great emphasis on the concept of art. The founding moment of this tradition was the exhibition in 1917 of a urinal, signed R. Mutt and entitled “Fountain,” by Marcel Duchamp. This “readymade” is not calculated to appeal…

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