Turner Prize

Monday December 10 9:47 AM ET

Madonna Presents Top Art Prize to Empty Room

By Paul Majendie

LONDON (Reuters) - Pop superstar Madonna on Sunday presented one of the world's most famous art prizes to conceptual artist Martin Creed for his controversial creation 'Bare Room with a Light that Switches on and off'.

To win the 20,000 pound ($28,600) Turner Prize, Creed fought off competition from a video about two gay cowboys, a dusty storeroom piled high with junk and a film of a disheveled alcoholic being brought a cup of tea by his wife.

The Turner Prize, won in the past by an elephant dung painting and pickled animal carcasses, invariably stirs tabloid controversy, receives a critical battering and attracts up to 100,000 people annually to London's Tate Britain museum.

The choice of Creed, whose other works include crumpled pieces of paper, looked set to enrage traditionalists, who condemn the Turner as a national joke which makes a mockery of modern art.

Creed, 33, unconcerned by all the fuss, understood why some people laugh at his work, admitting recently: ``I can see why some people take the piss out of me.''

But the judges admired his ``audacity in presenting a single work in the exhibition.'' They also noted its ``strength, rigor, wit and sensitivity to the site'' and said his work was ''engaging, wide-ranging and fresh.''

The Turner, which has always reveled in controversy, won added glamour this year with the presentation by Madonna, who is an avid collector of contemporary art and a major fan of Mexican surrealist and feminist icon Frida Kahlo.

Madonna recently loaned Kahlo's ``Self-portrait with Monkey'' to a Tate Modern surrealist exhibition.

Mike Nelson's dusty storeroom piled high with junk had been the hot favorite with bookmakers to land the prize.

They reported the heaviest betting year since Tracey Emin bid unsuccessfully for glory in 1999 with an unmade bed covered in condoms, soiled knickers and champagne corks.

The Turner judges have always been masters of publicity with their annual selection being mocked by critics but fiercely defended by avant-garde supporters as cutting edge art.

In 1995, Damien Hirst won the notorious prize with a pickled cow and calf, a win that launched him on the road to stardom as the ``bad boy of Brit art.''

In 1998 Chris Ofili won with elephant dung paintings that later sparked outrage when exhibited in New York.