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Turner Prize

The Turner Prize is an annual prize given to a British artist under 50, named after the painter J.M.W. Turner. It is organized by the Tate art gallery, and since its beginnings in 1984 it has become the United Kingdom's most publicised art award. The prize money is £20,000.

The short-list of nominees is announced several weeks before the prize-giving. An exhibition accompanies the prize with works by each of the artists being shown at Tate Britain. The prize is not judged on these works alone, however, but on the artists' work as a whole over the previous year.

The event receives intense attention from many branches of the media, much of it critical, addressing the question "what is art?".

The exhibition and prize rely on commercial sponsorship. From 1987 this was provided by the company Drexel Burnham Lambert; their withdrawal led to the 1990 prize being cancelled. Channel 4, an independent television channel, stepped in for 1991, doubled the prize money to the current level, and supported the event with documentaries and live broadcasts of the prize-giving.

The media success of the Turner Prize arguably contributed to the success of the late 1990s phenomena of Young British Artists and Cool Britannia[?], and exhibitions such as the Charles Saatchi[?]-sponsored Sensation.

Criticism of the Turner Prize

As well as typical essay-based criticism, there have been the following less formal attacks on the prize.

  • In 1993, Jimmy Cauty[?] and Bill Drummond of the K Foundation received media coverage for the award of the "Anti-Turner Prize", £40,000 to be given to the "worst artist in Britain", voted from the real Turner Prize's short-list. Rachel Whiteread, who won the real prize, also won the anti-Turner Prize. She refused to accept the money at first, but changed her mind when she heard the cash was to be burned instead, and gave £30,000 of it to artists in financial need and the other £10,000 to the housing charity, Shelter. The K Foundation went on to make a film in which £1 million appears to be burned.

  • In 1999 two artists, Jian Jun Xi and Yuan Cai, jumped onto Tracey Emin's work, My Bed, stripped to their underwear, and had a pillow fight. Police detained the two, who called their performance Two Naked Men Jump Into Tracey's Bed.

  • In 1999 a pro-painting group of artists known as the Stuckists was formed. They show particular antipathy towards the Turner Prize, describing it as an "ongoing national joke" and "a state-funded advertising agency for Charles Saatchi"; they continue: "the only artist who wouldn't be in danger of winning the Turner Prize is Turner", concluding that it "should be re-named The Duchamp Award for the destruction of artistic integrity".

  • In 2002 culture minister Kim Howells[?] pinned the following statement to a board in a room specially-designated for visitors' comments. "If this is the best British artists can produce then British art is lost. It is cold mechanical, conceptual bullshit. Kim Howells. P.S. The attempts at conceptualisation are particularly pathetic and symptomatic of a lack of conviction"

List of winners and nominees

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