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Turner prize goes to minimalist artist

LONDON, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- Britain's $30,000 Turner Prize Sunday was awarded to minimalist artist Martin Creed for a work featuring an empty gallery with a pair of flashing lights.

Creed, 33, beat competition from three rivals, Mike Nelson, Richard Billingham and Isaac Julien, none of them painters.

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As no doubt intended by the panel of judges, including Tate Gallery director Nicholas Serota, Creed's win immediately triggered controversy, overshadowing pop star Madonna's mischief in an award presentation speech.

She lambasted political correctness and rounded off with a four-letter-word punchline during the live broadcast -- an absolute no-no -- that Channel Four television's editors could not quite drown with beeps.

The award's sensational finale also sent a not-too-subtle message to all and sundry that London was back to normal, more or less, despite a continued though muted state of alert in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and official pleas for constant vigilance close to Christmas.

The Turner Prize, named after the landscape painter Joseph Mallord William Tuner, is less and less about painting and more about defining trends in art.

One of the former winners, Chris Ofili, used elephant dung as one of the art materials for his paintings, another won fame through a sawn-off carcass of a calf, and a runner-up, Tracey Emin, captured headlines with an unmade bed and the detritus of a bachelor girl's dissolute existence.

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By comparison, this year's contest was tame, although Creed's previous work includes a bit of Blu-Tac stuck on a wall, a crumpled up ball of paper and a table jutting through a doorway.

Critics wasted no time hailing the new entrant in the hall of fame as an optimist whose work, The Lights Going On and Off, could be celebrated for its austere beauty.

One of his rivals, Mike Nelson, had been the favorite to win for his work entitled Cosmic Legend of the Uroboros Serpent -- a dusty room filled with an array of disparate objects, including a plastic cactus, mirrors, doors and old tabloid newspapers that some visitors to Tate mistook for an actual storeroom.

Filmmaker Julien was the third contestant with a video of gay cowboys in a swimming pool.

Richard Billingham, already known for the photographic portraits of his family, was short listed for his landscape photographs and two video projections, Tony Smoking Backwards and Ray in Bed, Untitled Triptych.

Most of the artists short listed for the Turner Prize usually do well afterwards and spawn coteries of younger following in their steps and competing for even more controversial works.

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