THE TATE'S MODERN MASTER

THE TATE'S MODERN MASTER - He cuts an ascetic figure, yet since taking charge of the national collection of recent British art, Sir Nicholas Serota (opposite) has turned a fusty institution into a commercial juggernaut. And he still has nine years to go. Andrew Davidson wonders how he'll use them.

by ANDREW DAVIDSON

He cuts an ascetic figure, yet since taking charge of the national collection of recent British art, Sir Nicholas Serota (opposite) has turned a fusty institution into a commercial juggernaut. And he still has nine years to go. Andrew Davidson wonders how he'll use them.

It was just a scrappy note, hand-scrawled and pinned to a noticeboard, but when the staff at Tate Britain saw it, they must have thought, yup, job done. Kim Howells, minister of culture, had offered to the world his views on the Turner Prize exhibitors. Conceptual bullshit. The media furore that followed was in the best traditions of a prize that has long been one of the most cunningly conceived marketing tools the arts have ever seen.

Upstairs in his forbidding white cube of an office, Sir Nick Serota, the tall, lean, unsmiling director of the Tate, may have permitted himself a little lip-twitch of pleasure. Before Howells, there was a distinct danger that 2002's Turner Prize had a whiff of so-what? about it. The critics were unimpressed, many felt the standard of exhibitors was slipping, the buzz was virtually inaudible. Enter Howells.

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