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Turner Prize 2016
Anthea Hamilton, 2016

The UK’s most controversial art prize returns

Tomorrow, the Turner Prize 2016 opens to the public, featuring a giant bum and £20,436 worth of penny coins

This morning, the Tate Britain unveiled the Turner Prize ahead of its public launch tomorrow. Now in its 32nd year, the prize has aimed to “promote public debate around contemporary art” since its inception in 1984 and is awarded to a British artist, aged under 50-years-old, who has created an outstanding exhibition or presentation in the year leading up to its announcement.

While the turnout for the exhibition and the buzz surrounding its winner will no doubt be huge, the Turner Prize hasn’t been without its critics. Ahead of its debut on the UK art scene, when it was announced it would be named after radical painter J.M.W. Turner, people saw it as a sign that it would be an award celebrating controversial art. This was followed years later by allegations that members of the jury were accepting bribes from artists and in 1990, it was cancelled altogether due to a lack of funding. Last year, The Guardian labelled it “a giant marketing exercise for the Tate”, noting that they have benefitted from front-page worthy inclusions, such as Damien Hirst’s "Mother and Child, Divided" – aka the formaldehyde cows – as well as Tracey Emin’s “My Bed”, to name a few. However, with previous recipients of the prize including now-household names, such as Jeremy Deller, Gillian Wearing, Grayson Perry and Steve McQueen, the prize has also opened a mainstream window onto what is often seen as an elite world.

Looking to democratise it even further, this year the Tate is actively inviting visitors to take photos of the exhibition and share them across social media. They will also be streaming reactions on FacebookLive, as well as encouraging bloggers from outside the institution to write comments and reactions to the work. Lastly, they will invite visitors to 'pay what you want' when visiting on Tuesdays.

Speaking this morning at the press view, Director of Tate Britain, said, "The Turner Prize represents artists and artworks that are very important to this moment in time, being discussed a lot within the art world... This is a very exciting moment where, work that has been made and shown over the course of the last year, reaches a larger audience.

"It’s important that the Turner Prize and the Tate foster the idea that you don’t have to be an expert to understand it all. In fact, art’s not about a single meaning or a single statement…. People should feel free and trust their own responses and get involved in the discussion and I think the Turner Prize is a very exciting moment for all of that." As the prize opens to the public, get to know the artists involved. The winner will be announced in December.



30-year-old Macclesfield-born artist Helen Marten works predominantly with sculpture, screen printing and writing. Presenting three installations that look like workstations which have been interrupted to some degree – “On aerial greens (haymakers)” (2015), “Lunar Nibs” (2015) and “Brood and Bitter Pass” (2015) – she explores the cycle of the 24 hour day, looking at processes such as working, resting, sanctuary and spirituality.

Her work accumulates handmade and found objects, turning them into installations full of motifs and gestures from contemporary culture – described as “visual riddles or puzzles”. By divesting everyday objects of their meaning, Marten wants us to look at them as if we are seeing them for the first time, giving them new meaning. In doing so, she asks us to slow down and reconsider the objects around us.


What initially looks bombastic and surreal – for example, a huge butt welcomes us into her room – Anthea Hamilton’s work is layered in research processes that border on the obsessive. She has previously fallen down wormholes of 1970s disco and lichen and this year, brick walls take her fascination – which she's wallpapered half the room in – as well as London's sky over the Vauxhall Bridge at 3pm on a sunny day in June, the day she found out about her inclusion in the prize – which takes up the other half of her section.

Inspired heavily by early 20th-century French writer and dramatist Antonin Artaud’s idea of “physical knowledge of images” – through a butt, perspex rice cakes, a boot made from alabaster, flowers and chastity belts – Hamilton takes us on an experiential journey through her world and own experiences.


Using photography and sculpture, Josephine Pryde explores image-making. What turned out an accident – imprints of objects sitting on a kitchen bench in the sun – evolves into a series of images that represent the markings of time from when she was nominated for the prize to when the prize opened. 

In the second part, Pryde presents a series of images from the show that she was nominated for “Hands Für Mich” – cropped photos of hands touching mobile phones and tablets that aim to resemble fashion and advertising imagery.

Her last installation brings her work “The New Media Express” to an institution for the first time. Typically, Pryde once encouraged visitors to ride the train as it moved back and forth across the space however, here the train sits motionless but with its lights on, asking us to question its next move and her worthiness in relation to the prize.


The final room is taken up by Michael Dean – who turns his writing into physical forms. What is perhaps the most hard-hitting for Brits, entering an already crammed, white-walled and floored room, visitors are led by Dean’s sculptures. One route takes us to a dead end island, surrounded by penny coins. The coins make up the work, titled (United Kingdom poverty line for two adults and two children: twenty thousand four hundred and thirty six pounds sterling as published on 1st September 2016), in which £20,436 of penny coins (which has been borrowed for the show) form a mound in the middle of the installation. According to the UK government, this is the minimum amount of money that two adults and two children can survive on. By removing one penny, Dean takes the family – represented by four corrugated iron sculptures mounted on the coins – under the poverty line, proving how easy it is to drop below. The idea of stranding visitors on this island is that they look across the room at those who have taken the alternative route through the installation, and are therefore living above the line.

Also included are remnants of his previous works – an obsession with the word 'coat' is spelled out in seaweed, while his new favourite work 'shore' takes the form of 'for shore' – a play on ‘for sure’, as well as the number 4, and is marked around the room by stickers and painted on the exit door.

Turner Prize – curated by Linsey Young and Laura Smith – runs at Tate Britain from 27 September 2016 – until 2 January 2017. The winner will be announced on 5 December 2016