Turner Prize
1984-2020: History, Shortlisted Artists, Exhibits, Prize Winners.

Pin it

Damien Hirst
The most famous winner of the
Turner Prize and one of Britain's
top postmodernist artists.

Turner Prize For Contemporary Art (1984-2020)


What is The Turner Prize?
Origins and History
Who is Eligible?
Turner Prize Shortlist
Prize Money: How Much is the Turner Prize Worth to the Winner?
Controversial Turner Prize Exhibits
Prize Winners
Other Prizes For Contemporary Art

• For the world's best, see: Top 200 Contemporary Artists.
• For details of postmodernist events, see: Best Contemporary Art Festivals.

For a guide to modernist artworks,
plus details of styles and schools,
see: Contemporary Art Movements.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.

For a guide, see:
Postmodernist Art.

For the top 200 camera artists
see: Greatest Photographers.

For details, see:
Contemporary British Painting.

For the top 100 world's best
stone/wood bronze sculptors
see: Greatest Sculptures Ever.

What is The Turner Prize?

Named after England's greatest painter JMW Turner (1775-1851), and worth £20,000 to the winning artist, the Turner Prize is an annual visual arts prize, usually awarded at the beginning of December, for achievement in contemporary art. Frequently controversial in its choice of shortlisted candidates, the award is now established as one of the most prestigious avant-garde art competitions in Europe, if not worldwide. Famous Turner Prizewinners include Gilbert & George (1986), Anish Kapoor (1991), Rachel Whiteread (1993), Anthony Gormley (1994), and Damien Hirst (1995). For details, see: Turner Prize Winners.

What is the History of the Turner Prize?

The award was established by the Patrons of New Art - a group formed in 1982 to fund the purchase of new works of art for the Tate Gallery, and to stimulate interest in contemporary British art. They named the award after the great landscape painter Turner in part because it was his desire to establish a prize for young artists. The fact that he was chosen also because his work was controversial in his own day, suggests that controversy is an integral feature of the competition: presumably, in order to provoke the necessary headlines and generate the required publicity. As it happened, the media success of the Turner Prize helped - and was in turn helped by - the late 1990s appearance of Britart and the Sensation exhibition of contemporary British art, curated by Charles Saatchi, at the London Royal Academy in 1997.

Who is Eligible For the Turner Prize?

To begin with, the award was given to the person who - in the opinion of the jury - had made the greatest contribution to contemporary visual art in Britain over the previous 12 months, and was therefore open to administrators, curators and critics, as well as artists. Since 1991, eligibility has been limited to British artists under the age of 50, who have had "an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work" in the previous 12 months. However, since 1991, there has been no limit to the number of times a nominee artist can be shortlisted.

Turner Prize Shortlist

Nominations are invited during a three-week period in May; nomination forms usually appear in the Guardian Newspaper, as well as specialist art magazines. The independent Turner Prize jury, whose composition changes each year, then draws up a shortlist of four artists. This is announced in July. Then, during the last week or so of October, an exhibition of works by the four contenders is held at the Tate Britain (or Tate Liverpool). This continues until early January, although the name of the Turner Prize Winner is usually announced at the beginning of December.

Elements of the competitive process have been altered quite often over the years. At the outset, the shortlist numbered six artists. Since 1991, it has been limited to four. In 1988, it was decided not to make the shortlist public, and rather than staging a show of comparative works from all shortlisted candidates, the winner was given a solo show at the Tate the following year. More changes followed in 1989 when - in order to reduce the competitive element - a list of seven 'commended' artists was published. Then, in 1994, the shortlist was reinstated, along with the shortlist show, which now featured explanations of the exhibits, plus additional information about the artists.


The process still has its critics. For example, a Sunday Telegraph investigation into the 2006 Turner Prize revealed that members of the jury weren't able to visit shows of some artists and instead relied on catalogues and photographs!

More seriously perhaps, the art critic David Lee has stated that, since 1991, the shortlist has been dominated by artists associated with a small number of London dealers. One doubts that this can be true, but if it is, it would mean that the Turner Prize - and perhaps a large slice of the contemporary art market - is being manipulated for financial gain.

More to the point, does anyone believe that any of the Turner prizewinning painters has the artistic skill to produce one of the greatest paintings of the 20th century?

Prize Money: How Much is the Turner Prize Worth to the Winner?

Turner prize money amounted to £10,000 each year until 1990, when it was suspended for 12 months. From 1991, the prize fund was raised to £20,000. Since 2004, the prize has been worth £40,000 - £25,000 to the winner, £5,000 to the three other contemporary artists on the shortlist. Turner Prize sponsors include: Oliver Prenn, a founder member of the Patrons of New Art, (1984-6); the US investment company, Drexel Burnham Lambert International Inc (1987-9); Channel 4 (1991–2003); Gordon's Gin (2004-present).


Is it Art?

Many of the exhibits associated with the Turner Prize - notably those involving conceptual art, unconventional sculpture, installation, and video art - are condemned by art critics and members of the general public who question their artistic content. Faced with works of art made from - seemingly plastic blow-up dolls, a bisected cow, elephant dung, an unmade bed with used-tampax, a hand-written 'wordscape' describing an erotic film - these sceptics ask, "is this really art?" Questions that highlight specific concerns include: What exactly distinguishes today's contemporary art from theatre, entertainment, or mere sales blurb? Is Photography Art? When does a documentary film become a work of art?

Emperor's New Clothes or What?

How much of cutting edge contemporary art can be likened to the fable of the "Emperor's New Clothes"? Consider this recent excerpt from The White Review on James Richards, a nominee for the 2014 Turner Prize (nominated for his contribution to The Encyclopaedic Palace at the 55th Venice Biennale):

"Richards generates meaning through abundance, by way of allusion, ellipsis and unity of tone, the lack of legibility counterbalanced by a strong sense of mood."

What exactly does this mean? It means you need a PhD in Art to be able to understand it.

Reward Talented Artists or Fill Museums?

Other worries about the Turner Prize involve its general aim and direction, not least in light of Janet Street-Porter's 2006 comment that the Turner Prize entices thousands of young people into art galleries for the first time every year, thus fulfilling a valuable role. Is the main aim of the competition to identify and reward high quality visual artists, or to encourage people to visit museums? Selling extra tickets to art galleries and museums may be a commendable aim, but not (surely) at the expense of calling everything art. Otherwise how do we distinguish the good from the rubbish - by a show of hands?

The Influence of the Turner Prize on Students

Like it or not, the Turner Prize sends an important signal about what constitutes good modern art, to students and teachers in art colleges throughout Britain. In this context, rewarding highly subjective or conceptualist artworks may not be a very sensible strategy. And if you think that students and curators should be given free rein, consider this: in March 2009, an exhibition of cutting edge creativity was staged at the Pompidou Centre of Contemporary Art, in Paris. Entitled "The Specialisation of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilised Pictorial Sensibility", the show featured nine completely empty rooms.

Controversial Turner Prize Exhibits

Some of the more unusual Turner Prize exhibits include the following:

• A 2-hour film of a person wandering around an art gallery in a bear suit. (Mark Wallinger)
• A video of actors dressed in police uniforms who stood still for an hour, in silence. (Gillian Wearing)
• Installation of a shed, converted into a boat for a trip down the Rhine and then reconverted into a shed. (Simon Starling)
• An installation of a white room with a single light bulb blinking on and off. (Martin Creed)
• An installation of an unmade bed complete with used condoms and tampons. (Tracy Emin)
• A dead sheep in formaldehyde. (Damian Hirst)

Winners of Turner Prize (1984-2020)

1984 Malcolm Morley
1985 Howard Hodgkin
1986 Gilbert & George
1987 Richard Deacon
1988 Tony Cragg
1989 Richard Long
1991 Anish Kapoor
1992 Grenville Davey
1993 Rachel Whiteread
1994 Antony Gormley
1995 Damien Hirst
1996 Douglas Gordon
1997 Gillian Wearing
1998 Chris Ofili
1999 Steve McQueen
2000 Wolfgang Tillmans
2001 Martin Creed
2002 Keith Tyson
2003 Grayson Perry
2004 Jeremy Deller
2005 Simon Starling
2006 Tomma Abts
2007 Mark Wallinger
2008 Mark Leckey.
2009 Richard Wright
2010 Susan Philipsz
2011 Martin Boyce
2012 Elizabeth Price
2013 Laure Prouvost
2014 Duncan Campbell
2015 Assemble Collective
2016 Helen Marten
2017 Lubaina Himid
2018 Charlotte Prodger
2019 Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Tai Shani, Oscar Murillo
2020 Did not go ahead due to Covid-19

Other Prizes for Contemporary Art

There are numerous awards given by contemporary art galleries, foundations, museums and government arts bodies for outstanding works of contemporary art, in a wide variety of categories. They include:

• Artes Mundi Prize
• Carnegie Art Award
• Deutsche Borse Photography Prize
• Hugo Boss Prize
• John Moores Painting Prize
• Kandinsky Prize
• Larry Aldrich Award
• Marcel Duchamp Prize (Prix Marcel Duchamp)
• Preis der Nationalgalerie fur Junge Kunst
• Roswitha Haftmann Prize
• Vincent van Gogh Biennial Award for Contemporary Art in Europe
• Wolfgang Hahn Prize

• For more about contemporary arts, see: Homepage.
• For details of famous painters and sculptors from Ireland, see Contemporary Irish Artists.

Visual Artists, Greatest | Best Art Museums
© visual-arts-cork.com. All rights reserved.