Since it was set up in 1984, the Turner Prize has become one of the best-known visual arts prizes. Each year, four artists are shortlisted, and the prize awarded for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation in the preceding year. 

The Turner Prize 2016 exhibition showcases the work of the four nominees: Michael DeanAnthea HamiltonHelen Marten and Josephine Pryde.

Malcolm Morley in front of a large scale painting

1984 winner Malcom Morley in front of his painting

So what are the essential things to know about this fixture of the art world calendar?

The Turner Prize is in its thirties

The prize was first awarded in 1984. It was founded by a group called the Patrons of New Art who had been formed in 1982 to encourage wider interest in contemporary art and assist the (then) Tate Gallery in acquiring new works.

Gilbert and George after receiving the Turner Prize, 1986

Gilbert and George after receiving the Turner Prize, 1986

It’s given to ‘a British artist’

‘British’ can mean an artist working primarily in Britain or an artist born in Britain working anywhere.

Winners of the Turner Prize

Richard Long assembling his solo exhibition at the Tate Gallery following his Turner Prize 1989 award

Richard Long assembling his solo exhibition at the Tate Gallery following his Turner Prize 1989 award

The prize is not awarded on the Turner Prize exhibition

The prize is awarded purely on the exhibition or presentation the artist was nominated for. Although the shortlisted artists show their work in a Turner Prize exhibition, that exhibition has no bearing on the decision. The artists can choose to show any recent work and they make their selection in collaboration with curators from Tate Britain.

The jury for the 1984 Turner Prize © Tate photography

The jury for the 1984 Turner Prize © Tate photography

There is an independent panel of judges each year

Every year a new panel is selected, thought it is always chaired by the Director of Tate Britain.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Self-Portrait c.1799

Joseph Mallord William Turner Self-Portrait c.1799

 It’s named after J.M.W. Turner

When choosing the name for the prize, the founders chose nineteenth-century artist J.M.W. Turner as a figure who had been innovative and controversial in his own day but also gone on to be seen as one of the greatest British artists. Turner had also wanted to establish a prize for young artists himself.

Damien Hirst (right) at the tate after receiving the turner prize with artists Michael Craig-Martin (left) and Grenville Davey (centre), 1995

Damien Hirst (right) at Tate after receiving the turner prize with artists Michael Craig-Martin (left) and Grenville Davey (centre), 1995

The Turner Prize award is £40,000

£25,000 goes to the winner and £5,000 each goes to the other shortlisted artists.

 

It’s amazing what you can do with an E in A-Level art, a twisted imagination and a chainsaw’.
Damien Hirst’s acceptance speech in 1995

Howard Hodgkin receiving the prize from Sir Richard Attenborough © Tate Photography

Howard Hodgkin receiving the prize from Sir Richard Attenborough © Tate Photography

It’s often presented by a celebrity

Previous presenters have included Richard Attenborough, Paul Smith, Yoko Ono, Mario Testino and Madonna.

Tracey Emin My Bed 1999 Photo: Mark Heathcote, Tate Photography

Tracey Emin My Bed 1999 Photo: Mark Heathcote, Tate Photography

The Turner Prize provokes debate about art

By championing the early career of British artists, the Turner Prize has played a large part in the growing public interest in contemporary art in the UK. It is one of the most well-known awards for the visual arts in Europe.

Grayson Perry at the 2003 Turner Prize reception, 2003

Grayson Perry at the 2003 Turner Prize reception, 2003

The prize is for artists under 50

To begin with, the prize could be awarded to anyone working in the arts (including curators, critics or gallery directors) for the ‘greatest contribution’ to art. But in 1988 this changed and the prize was awarded to artists only. In 1991, it changed again to introduce the age limit of 50, clarifying that the prize was not a ‘lifetime achievement’ award. 

I think the art world had more trouble coming to terms with me being a potter than my choice of frocks’.
Grayson Perry’s Prize acceptance speech in 2003 

Vong Phaophanit with Neon Rice Field at the 1993 exhibition © Tate photography

Vong Phaophanit with Neon Rice Field at the 1993 exhibition © Tate photography

The exhibition travels every other year

The first exhibition outside of London was at Tate Liverpool in 2007. It has since taken place at BALTIC in Gateshead (2011), and Ebrington in Derry-Londonderry (2013).

Find out more

TURNER PRIZE YEAR BY YEAR