U.K. Turner Prize Goes To Sound Artist For 1st Time

Susan Philipsz became the first sound artist to win Britain's coveted Turner Prize on Monday (Dec. 6), but her acceptance speech at the Tate Britain gallery was drowned out by noisy protesters opposing cuts to arts funding.

The 45-year-old Scot, the bookmakers' firm favorite to scoop the £25,000 ($40,000) award, said she sympathized with the demonstrators, who were kept out of sight but not out of earshot at the London awards ceremony.

"It was kind of a surreal experience," the soft-spoken Philipsz told reporters in the gallery where her winning voice installation could be heard in the background. "And to have the protests, it brought me back to my [own] days of protesting against the cuts. My heart goes out to them."

Nicholas Serota, head of the Tate galleries which oversee the annual prize, added his voice to the art world's concerns about the impact of major funding cutbacks planned as the government seeks ways to reduce its budget deficit.

"Art should continue to be accessible to all, no matter where you live or indeed whatever your wealth," he said.

Victory for Philipsz, whose work centers around recordings of her singing folk songs in public spaces, is likely to rile traditionalists who have criticized the prize for being pretentious and out of touch with popular tastes.

Previous winners of the award, one of the art world's most important, include Grayson Perry, a cross-dressing ceramicist, and Martin Creed, whose installation in 2001 featured lights going on and off in an empty room.

Philipsz, based in Berlin, was nominated for "Lowlands" at the International Festival of Visual Art in Glasgow and "Long Gone" at the Museo de Arte Contemporanea de Vigo in Spain.

At the Tate Britain, she recreated Lowlands for the annual Turner Prize exhibition, filling an empty gallery with recordings of her singing old Scottish laments.

The Stuckists, a small but vocal group of artists who have sought to undermine the Tate and Turner Prize over the years, said the award should not go to a "singer."

"It's just someone singing in an empty room. It's not art. It's music," they wrote in advance of the winner announcement.

The Turner Prize is awarded to artists born in Britain who may be working abroad or any artists based in the United Kingdom for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation.