Turner Prize: four for the price of one

The jury of the famous British contemporary art award chose to share the distinction between the four candidates, at their request. A political choice and a daring coup.

Often shown as an example, the Turner Prize, the most prestigious British contemporary art award, knows how to surprise. And make people talk about him. The prize, which has already decorated Anish Kapoor, Wolfgang Tillmans, Gilbert & George, Damien Hirst or Laure Prouvost, does not have a single winner this year but four: Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Tai Shani and Oscar Murillo will be divided equally the 40,000 pounds (usually the winner gets 25,000 pounds, the other three 5,000). The choice to distinguish the four candidates was announced during a ceremony broadcast live on the BBC from the amusement park of Margate, a seaside town in Kent where the painter William Turner had his habits. The exhibition of the four winners is currently being held at Margate, at the Turner Contemporary, a contemporary art museum opened in 2011, erected on the site of the guesthouse frequented by the English painter. JMW Turner gave his name to the British Contemporary Art Prize, one of the most famous in the world.

Anti-individualistic claim

Unexpectedly, this collective prize is the initiative of the four candidates in the running. Their wish was approved by the jury, chaired by Tate Britain director Alex Farquharson, “Honored to support this bold declaration of solidarity”. The artists had the idea of ​​sharing the prize during the hanging of the exhibition, which opened on September 28. As soon as they met, the winners formed a WhatsApp group called “the winners”. If this outpouring of solidarity cuts the grass under the jurors’ feet, it is supposed to put lead in the wing of the art market, accustomed to capitalizing on award-winning talents.

The anti-individualist claim of this young generation is also political, in the midst of the legislative campaign: “In these times of political crisis in the UK and much of the world, when so much already divides and isolates people and communities, we would very much like to take the opportunity of the award ceremony to make a difference. collective declaration in the name of coexistence, diversity and solidarity, in art as well as in society ”, argued the four artists in a letter to the jury.

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During the award ceremony, Helen Cammock said that the work of the four artists was indeed “Little suited to the format of the competition, which tends to divide and individualize”. And since this award explores British identity – it is given to an artist working in Britain or born in Great Britain – the artists found their position significant in “A time marked by the rise of the right, and the renewal of fascism in a hostile conservative environment”. All artists, like their relatives and friends, feel “Less and less welcome in the United Kingdom”. Oscar Murillo, of Colombian origin, who arrived in London at the age of 11, wore a sticker calling to vote for the Labor Party during the ceremony. Tai Shani wore an inscription “Tories outside”, hostile to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party.

Social and political causes

If the jury honored their request, it is because it recognized the commitment of these artists for social and political causes. Oscar Murillo, referred to as the new Basquiat, explores issues of migration, community and exchange in globalization in an installation populated by silhouettes of papier-mâché workers. Helen Cammock presented a film about the neglected role of women in the struggle for civil rights in Northern Ireland. Tai Shani, also a feminist, has created a fantasy and multimedia world, free from patriarchy and genres. While Lawrence Abu Hamdan, sound artist, undertook an investigation with Amnesty International on Saidnaya prison in Syria where torture and mass executions were practiced.

It is not unusual for the prizes to be shared: in 2015, the American artist Theaster Gates, winner of the Artes Mundi prize, wanted to share his award (40,000 pounds) with the other selected artists. The same goes for the Briton Helen Marten, first winner of the post-Brexit Turner Prize, who spoke out against xenophobia and an increasingly precarious world situation. While she had won two prizes (Hepworth Prize and Turner Prize), the artist had announced to share her earnings with her colleagues. Created to spark interest in contemporary art and help the Tate acquire new works, the Turner Prize, born in 1984, was modeled on the Booker Prize literary prize. This year, the latter rewarded two winners: Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo. This time, it was on the initiative of the jury, who declared themselves unable to choose a single winner.

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Turner Prize: four for the price of one

Hank Gilbert