The 36th edition of the Turner Prize, the annual contemporary art award bestowed by the Tate museums in London, will not take place this year, according to a statement released today. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Turner Prize’s organizers will forego the traditional competition and instead provide grants of £10,000 (~$12,340) to 10 British artists. The difficulty of mounting a physical exhibition, which always accompanies the award, was cited as a principal reason for the cancelation of the 2020 prize.
The new course of action will also allow Tate to support a larger number of artists, responding to the urgent economic needs that have emerged in the cultural community during the pandemic. The Turner Prize usually provides cash prizes to four British visual artists: a £25,000 (~$30,850) award to the winner and £5,000 each (~$6,170) to three shortlisted candidates. For 2020, the total awarded amount will be more than doubled and split among 10 artists thanks to funds donated by a group of Tate’s supporters, including the UK-based Ampersand Foundation.
“The tight timetable for preparing the annual exhibition would not have been achievable under the present restrictions, so the decision was made to help support a larger selection of artists through this period of profound disruption and uncertainty,” reads the museums’ statement.
But this is not the first time the Turner Prize awards will be unconventionally distributed. Last year, the four nominees decided to share the £40,000 prize money prize equally amongst themselves, penning a letter to the judges that emphasized the political content of each artist’s oeuvre and argued that “it would feel problematic if they were pitted against each other.” Months prior, the 2019 prize had been mired in controversy when it was revealed that the award’s lead sponsor, the Scottish transportation company Stagecoach, was involved in decades-long campaign against the LGBTQ community; the organizers of the Turner Prize decided to drop the sponsorship a day after it was announced.
The recipients of the “Turner Bursaries,” as the 2020 one-time grants will be known, will be selected by the Turner Prize jury and announced by the end of June. This year’s jurors include Richard Birkett, curator at large at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts; Sarah Munro, director of the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art; Fatoş Üstek, director of the Liverpool Biennial; and designer and curator Duro Olowu.
The Tate museums’ recent statement confirms that the award and exhibition will return in 2021.
“Gallery closures and social distancing measures are vitally important, but they are also causing huge disruption to the lives and livelihoods of artists,” said Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain and chair of the Turner Prize jury, in the press release. “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.”