The Turner Prize, named after the painter J. M. W. Turner, is an annual prize presented to a British visual artist under the age of 50. Awarding the prize is organised by the Tate gallery and staged at Tate Britain. Since its beginnings in 1984 it has become the United Kingdom's most publicised art award. Although it represents all media, and painters have also won the prize, it has become associated primarily with conceptual art.
As of 2004, the monetary award was established at £40,000. There have been different sponsors, including Channel 4 television and Gordon's Gin. The prize is awarded by a distinguished celebrity: in 2006 this was Yoko Ono.
It is a controversial event, mainly for the exhibits, such as "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living", a shark in formaldehyde by Damien Hirst and "My Bed", a dishevelled bed by Tracey Emin. Controversy has also come from other directions, including a Culture Minister (Kim Howells) criticising exhibits, a guest of honour (Madonna) swearing, a prize judge (Lynn Barber) writing in the press, and a speech by Sir Nicholas Serota (about the purchase of a trustee's work).
The event has also regularly attracted demonstrations, notably the K Foundation and the Stuckists, as well as alternative prizes to assert different artistic values.
Each year after the announcement of the four nominees and during the build-up to the announcement of the winner, the Prize receives intense attention from the media. Much of this attention is critical and the question is often asked, "is this art?" The artists usually work in "innovative" media, including video art, installation art and unconventional sculpture, though painters have also won.
Artists are chosen based upon a showing of their work which they have staged in the preceding year. Nominations for the prize are invited from the public, although this was widely considered to have negligible effect — a suspicion confirmed in 2006 by Lynn Barber, one of the judges. Typically, there is a three-week period in May for public nominations to be received; the short-list (which since 1991 has been of four artists) is announced in July; a show of the nominees' work opens at Tate Britain in late October; and the prize itself is announced at the beginning of December. The show stays open till January. The prize is officially not judged on the show at the Tate, however, but on the earlier show for which the artist was nominated.
The exhibition and prize rely on commercial sponsorship. By 1987, money for the was provided by Drexel Burnham Lambert; its withdrawal after its demise led to the cancellation of the prize for 1990. Channel 4, an independent television channel, stepped in for 1991, doubled the prize money to £20,000, and supported the event with documentaries and live broadcasts of the prize-giving. In 2004, they were replaced as sponsors by Gordon's gin, who also doubled the prize money to £40,000, with £5,000 going to each of the shortlisted artists, and £25,000 to the winner.
As much as the shortlist of artists reflects the state of British Art, the composition of the panel of judges, which includes curators and critics, provides some indication of who holds influence institutionally and internationally, as well as who are rising stars. Tate Director Sir Nicholas Serota has been the Chair of the jury since his tenure at the Tate (with the exception of the current year when Chairman is the Director of Tate Liverpool, where the prize is being staged). There are conflicting reports as to how much personal sway he has over the proceedings.
The media success of the Turner Prize contributed to the success of (and was in turn helped by) the late 1990s phenomena of Young British Artists (several of whom were nominees and winners), Cool Britannia, and exhibitions such as the Charles Saatchi-sponsored Sensationexhibition.
Most of the artists nominated for the prize selection become known to the general public for the first time as a consequence, some have talked of the difficulty of the sudden media exposure. Sale prices of the winners have generally increased. Chris Ofili, Anish Kapoor and Jeremy Deller later became trustees of the Tate. Some artists, notably Sarah Lucas, have declined the invitation to be nominated.
Click here for a list of winners and nominees, see List of Turner Prize winners and nominees.
"The Turner Prize." Tate: British and International Modern and Contemporary Art. Web. 14 Dec. 2011. <http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/turnerprize/>.
"Turner Prize." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 14 Dec. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turner_Prize>.