When does an ice-cream van become a hot piece of art? The decision over what should be displayed in Britain's art galleries is something everyone has an opinion on and this summer debate has focused on a tatty fast food stall that was apparently considered for the country's most prestigious prize. Each summer the list of finalists for the Turner Prize awarded by Tate Gallery in London is greeted with equal measures of enthusiasm and derision by genuine critics and those who have never set foot in an art gallery. Previous years have seen severed cows and piles of masonry short-listed for the GBP20,000 (about HK$253,000) prize. But this year a proposal to nominate a van that was judged too ugly to sit outside a famous concert hall has upset the appetites of even the most hardened critics. The fast food truck in question had been parked outside the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington until complaints were raised that its shabby design did not fit in with the cultural environment. In response to the complaint by Lord Snowdon, the Provost of the Royal College of Art, a prankster wrote to the Tate Gallery and suggested the van be considered for this year's competition. But to everyone's surprise the gallery famous for its avant-garde exhibitions accepted the proposal at its face value and said it was prepared to consider entering the truck plastered with advertisements for ice lollies for this year's Turner Prize. 'If an artist were to designate the ice-cream van a work of art and exhibit it as such and if someone were then to nominate it for the Turner Prize it might indeed be considered by the jury for short listing,' Simon Wilson, Curator of Interpretation at the gallery wrote in response to the suggestion. 'The van is an extraordinary visual object. In a way it is a naive work of art created by the owner who decorated it in an extraordinary way,' Mr Wilson concluded in describing the truck which looks similar to those that used to be seen parked outside Hong Kong's Victoria Park. British media were delighted the gallery had been hoodwinked into agreeing to consider the scruffy truck as a possible work of art. The press had already ridiculed the art establishment for accepting an exhibit made from elephant dung as one of the contenders for this year'sprize. The work by 29-year-old Chris Ofili uses lumps of elephant dung carefully gathered in Zimbabwe mixed with oil paint and smeared on canvases in a series of patterns said to be influenced by contemporary black music and pornographic magazines. But Mr Wilson insisted the gallery had not been suckered by the proposal to submit the ice-cream van for this year's exhibition. 'We have a policy of giving a serious response to all kinds of loony letters. Each year we have all kinds of nutty things which are suggested for the competition because we have an open policy.' But he admitted curators at the gallery had considered the van as a piece of 'folk art' based on the way in which the owner had smothered the outside with stickers and transfers advertising various kinds of ice creams. Each year submissions for the competition attract an equal amount of wise wagging of heads by those who claim to appreciate modern art and howls of protest by those who believe many of the works are plain nonsense. 'There's always something which attracts protests,' Mr Wilson said. 'A few years ago we displayed a work that consisted of several tonnes of rice laid out on the floor. There was a huge row partly because some people said it was simply a waste of food, but actually it was very beautiful and some of those who objected were won over when they came to see the exhibition.' The Turner Prize was founded to stimulate debate about contemporary art, and Mr Wilson hoped the criticism would encourage people to think more about which pieces created by modern artists they enjoyed. Earlier this summer a group of students from Leeds University took the debate about what constituted art a step further. The group, in the third year of a fine-arts course, apparently used funds intended for an end-of-term exhibition to finance a holiday in Spain. Tutors invited to view their exhibition were shown photographs of the students apparently cavorting on the beach. Angry sponsors who provided GBP1,126 for the project demanded their money back before the students revealed the trip was a hoax that had hoodwinked the national press. About 60 members of the press and academics invited to the end-of-term exhibition found a gallery empty apart from a large bowl of sangria and the sound of flamenco music. They were then ushered on to a bus and taken to Leeds-Bradford airport apparently just in time to see the 13-sun tanned students clearing customs clutching photographs of themselves enjoying the sea and sand. But after an outcry in the national press the students revealed they had never left Britain but had posed the photographs in the less-than-glamorous north England coastal resort of Scarborough and had picked up their sun tans by borrowing a sun lamp. Last month, tutors at Leeds University revealed the students had all been given top marks for the project. The head of the university's art department claimed they were among the brightest of their generation and said they could be the future of the British art scene.