The K Foundation Art Award

In June 1993 an organisation called the K-Foundation began taking out full page mainstream national press ad’s. At first they were full of Drummond-esques about time running in, and “Kick out the Klocks”, and five year journeys which included pop success and deep space travel. A ‘further information address’ was included. Then a fourth ad appeared, on August 14th, reading: “ABANDON ALL ART NOW. Await further announcements. Major rethink in progress.”

“Abandon All Art Now” advert by The K Foundation (NME, 14 Aug 1993)

The next ad (28th Aug) read: “It has come to our attention that you did not abandon all art now. Further direct action is thus necessary. The K Foundation announce the ‘mutha of all awards’, the 1994 K Foundation award for the worst artist of the year’. It then went on to detail how a shortlist of four artists had been chosen, and that they would be exhibited in the Tate Gallery. The first newspaper piece about the K-F appeared the following Monday, correctly pointing out that the shortlist of named artists and the exhibition were actually both for the 1993 Turner Prize, the controversial annual award given by the UK art establishment to the best young modern artist, which came with a prize of 20000 pounds, but incorrectly assuming that the K-F prize was a hoax. Note the date that the award was to be announced – 23rd November, and note the fact that it is the 1994 K-F award as opposed to the 1993 Turner award. Obviously this signifies that the K-F are more forward-looking than the Turner, but also try adding 1+9+9+4 together. If you think I’m being pedantic, adding the individual numbers in years together is a standard Discordian thing to do. My [Stuart] theory is that Bill and Jimi were happy with their deliberately weird ads, when they heard that the Turner would be announced on the 23rd of November, decided that that was an opportunity too good to miss, cancelled their previous plans and never sent out any of the further information packs. Bill says he still has all the SAEs which they received, and they may be replied to at some time in the future.

Uncredited Tate Gallery Spokesman We are not worried by this “rival” award. It proves the validity of our prize that somebody would take so much trouble to set up this award.

Nicholas Serota (Tate Gallery Director) The K Foundation advertisements will help stimulate discussion of contemporary art, one of the main purposes of the Turner Prize.

Brian Sewell (Evening Standard Art Critic) The Foundation has struck a raw nerve with those who believe, like me, that the Turner Prize is discredited. It’s directed in favour of a particular kind of art and against all other kinds. The K Foundation, whoever they are, must be congratulated on such a magnificent spoof.

David Lillington I’m as cynical about the Turner Prize as the next person. But these kinds of things must be funny and the idea behind them must be neat, because conceptual neatness is precisely what they aspire to. The K Foundation trick hasn’t got it. They want us to choose the worst artist from a pre-packed set. That’s cheating. And they give all the evidence of believing in prizes, in artists, in comparisons of quality, in grading it and rewarding it – they use the same grammar as the thing they attack. The Turner Prize will survive because groups like the K Foundation will keep it there.

Later award winner Rachel Whiteread at the time dismissed the alternative award as a “badly researched joke”, but said that the winner would no doubt accept the money graciously and play the pranksters at their own game.

The next ad invited the general public to vote for the worst artist, either by going to the exhibition and using their critical faculties or by letting their inherent prejudices come to the fore.

“Let The People Choose” advert by The K Foundation (Independent On Sunday, 12 Sep 1993)

The final ad summarised the whole campaign, asked some questions back to the people that had written to them, and explained that the winner of the K-F award would be announced in a TV advert during the live Turner prize coverage on Channel 4. All the press ad’s are available in the ftp archive, as are loads of newspaper and magazine articles about the events of the 23rd of November.

Briefly however: Rachel Whiteread was contacted by the K-Foundation and informed that she had won the 40000 pound prize. She refused to allow her name to be used in the TV advert. 25 witnesses (art critics, journalists, music industry figures, artists etc., there were 15 more people present: I presume they were photographers and video crews) were invited to participate and driven in a convoy of white limos (lead by a gold limo) to a service station where they were handed a press release and 1650 pounds in crisp new 50 pound notes. The accompanying press release stated that 25 x 1600 collectively made up the 40000 K-Foundation prize, and that the extra 50 was for the witness to verify its authenticity by spending it. The witnesses were dressed in fluorescent orange hard hats and safety jackets, and large quantities of champagne were drunk.

Eventually the convoy reached a field patrolled by two orange-painted K-F Saracen armoured cars, driven by Drummond and Cauty, broadcasting ‘K Sera Sera’ and Abba’s ‘Money Money Money’. Silver bearded Mr Ball, the compere with a megaphone directed the witnesses to nail their wad of money to a board inside a gilt frame, to assemble the K- F’s prize. Unfortunately some of the witnesses pocketed all or some of their wad, and the prize money was 8600 short, which the K-F had to make up. Mr Ball also directed the witnesses to “view the art”: A Million pounds in 50 pound note wads, nailed to a large framed board. The K-F’s first art work, ‘Nailed To A Wall’.

All the witnesses were visibly impressed by this sight. When an artist complained that it wasn’t a work of art, as it wasn’t signed, Mr Ball deadpanned “I think you’ll find that every note is signed sir”. The witnesses were made to hand over a 10 pound note as payment for an art catalogue. Half of each note was returned to the witness. The reserve price of the works has been set at half the face value of the cash involved. Nailed To The Wall – face value a cool million – is up for sale at 500,000 pounds. The catalogue states: “Over the years the face value will be eroded by inflation, while the artistic value will rise and rise. The precise point at which the artistic value will overtake the face value is unknown. Deconstruct the work now and you double your money. Hang it on a wall and watch the face value erode, the market value fluctuate, and the artistic value soar. The choice is yours.” The point is simple: art as a speculative currency, and vice-versa. To put it more bluntly: Art equals Money, and Money equals Art.

Meanwhile three TV adverts costing exactly 20,000 pounds were being shown on Channel 4 in between the live coverage of the real award ceremony. Since Channel 4 funded the Turner prize, the K-Foundation were in effect paying for both awards. These ad’s explain that the K-F are currently amending the history of art at a secret location. Rachel Whiteread won the Turner prize too, and absolutely no mention of the alternative award was made in the Turner studio discussion, an act of crass cowardice and stupidity by the Channel 4 programme makers which confirmed all the points about the modern art establishment that the K-F were trying to make.

The motorcade left the site of the amending of art-history and headed back to London, where on the steps of the Tate, Rachel Whiteread was due to be handed the prize money. When she refused to accept the money, the K-F explained that it would be burnt. With the crowd of now very drunk witnesses looking on hoping the money would be burnt, a masked K-F operative (Gimpo) fumbled with matches and lighter fluid. At the last moment Rachel Whiteread emerged from the Tate and accepted the money, stating that she would give it as grants to needy artists.

A huge amount of press publicity ensued, with all the major newspapers and press organisations reporting that Whiteread had won both awards. The K-F’s publicist, Mick Houghton, revealed that the voting for the K-F’s award was supposed to produce a tie, to illustrate the hypocrisy of the Turner award committee, but that strangely the result had been a huge margin of victory for Whiteread. He speculated that the few thousand voters had just liked or rather disliked the sound of her name.

In the week that followed the K Foundation returned the million to the Bank of England, but pierced with nail-holes, the money was unusable and the Bank fined the K- Foundation 9000 pounds for damaging money and charged them 500 quid to print a new million!! (if they had burnt the money they would have faced criminal charges!). Very many people quoted in the huge amount of publicity that followed expressed the opinion that the K-F had ‘wasted’ the money by spending it on advertising. Or that the joke was on the K-Foundation as they had lost all this money. Imagine the outrage if they had burnt the money…

In March 1997, Bill explained thusly: “Most of the people who wrote about what we did, and the TV programme that was made about it, made a mistake. I was only able to articulate it to myself afterwards with hindsight they thought we were using our money to make a statement about art, and really what we were doing was using our art to make a statement about money. Having arrived at that formula, I’m probably manipulating everything we did to fit into the theory, but we were just getting up in the morning and getting on the phone with each other and saying, fucking hell! So at some points we thought we were attacking the art establishment then we were saying, no that’s not what this is about.”

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