The Turner Prize is an annual prize given to a British visual 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 fund in 2004 was £40,000.
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The build-up to the announcement of the winner, each year, receives intense attention from many branches of the media, much of it critical, addressing the question "what is art?". The artists themselves usually work in modern forms, including installation art and unconventional sculpture, though painters have also won.
Nominations for the prize are invited from the public, and the short-list (which since 1991 has been of four artists) is announced several months 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 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 £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 £20,000 to the winner.
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 they burned £1 million of their own money.
- 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".
- The art critic David Lee has argued that since the re-organisation of the prize in 1991 the shortlist has been dominated by artists represented by the London dealers most closely linked to the collector Charles Saatchi; Jay Jopling, Maureen Paley and Victoria Miro. This is not entirely supported as the Lisson Gallery has had the most success of any gallery with the Turner Prize from 1991 – 2004.
- 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 shortlisted artists
The 1988 shortlist was not published at the time of the prize, and there was no shortlist as such in 1989, although a number of artists other than the winner were "commended".
- 1984 – Malcolm Morley, winner
- 1985 – Howard Hodgkin, winner
- 1986 – Gilbert and George, winner
- 1987 – Richard Deacon, winner
- 1988 – Tony Cragg, winner
- 1989 – Richard Long, winner
- 1990 – prize suspended
- 1991 – Anish Kapoor, winner
- 1992 – Grenville Davey, winner
- 1993 – Rachel Whiteread, winner
- Hannah Collins
- Vong Phaophanit
- Sean Scully
- 1994 – Antony Gormley, winner
- 1995 – Damien Hirst, winner
- 1996 – Douglas Gordon, winner
- 1997 – Gillian Wearing, winner
- Christine Borland
- Angela Bulloch
- Cornelia Parker
- 1998 – Chris Ofili, winner
- 1999 – Steve McQueen, winner
- 2000 – Wolfgang Tillmans, winner
- Glenn Brown
- Michael Raedecker
- Tomoko Takahashi
- 2001 – Martin Creed, winner
- 2002 – Keith Tyson, winner
- Fiona Banner
- Liam Gillick
- Catherine Yass
- 2003 – Grayson Perry, winner 
- 2004 – Jeremy Deller, winner
The shortlist for the 2004 prize was announced on May 18. The artists exhibited work at Tate Britain from 20 October to 23 December, with the winner announced on 6 December.