Tate has announced that this year’s Turner Prize is cancelled. Yet far more artists stand to benefit from its replacement: a set of 10 bursaries of £10,000 each. Usually four artists are shortlisted, with one winning the top prize of £25,000 and three winning £5,000 each, which means this year’s prize money pot is 2.5 times that of previous years, thanks to funding from a group of Tate’s supporters.
This year’s jury has spent the past 12 months visiting hundreds of exhibitions in preparation for selecting the nominees of the prize, yet the organisers say the tight timetable for preparing the annual show would not have been achievable under the present conditions. Given the impact of the pandemic on the art world, the decision was made to financially support a larger group of artists “through this period of profound disruption and uncertainty”. The jury will hold a virtual meeting to select the final 10 artists, to be announced in late June.
The Turner Prize is awarded to British artists (born or based in the UK) who have made a significant contribution to contemporary art with an exhibition or presentation of their work in the past 12 months.
“Gallery closures and social distancing measures are vitally important, but they are also causing huge disruption to the lives and livelihoods of artists,” comments Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain and chair of the Turner Prize jury. “The practicalities of organising a Turner Prize exhibition are impossible in the current circumstances, so we have decided to help support even more artists during this exceptionally difficult time. I think JMW Turner, who once planned to leave his fortune to support artists in their hour of need, would approve of our decision.”
He adds that while visitors might be disappointed, “we can all look forward to it returning in 2021.” This announcement comes as many galleries and museums around the world have begun to open as lockdown restrictions are eased, albeit with an array of social distancing measures in place, from traffic light systems (at Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen) to checking visitors’ temperatures on arrival.
Last year the four shortlisted Turner Prize artists flipped the prize on its head by forming a collective so they could all win. Oscar Murillo, Tai Shani, Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Helen Cammock, agreed that the nature of their work was at odds with the divisive and individualistic competition format, and wanted to make a “collective statement in the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity” amidst a turbulent time of “political crisis in Britain”. As a result they each received an equal share of the £40,000 prize fund, the same amount this year’s bursary winners will be awarded.
Oscar Murillo: installation view of Collective Conscience, 2019, Turner Prize 2019 at Turner Contemporary. Photograph by David Levene.