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Tate Britain to hand out 10 Turner bursaries instead of overall prize

James Pickford in London

The Turner Prize, the UK’s best known contemporary art prize, has been shelved as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Tate Britain, which organises the prize, will instead award 10 artists “Turner bursaries” of £10,000 each, as a way of supporting artists whose livelihoods have been threatened by the tight restrictions imposed under lockdown.

Under normal circumstances, four artists would be nominated in May and an exhibition of their work unveiled in September, but the organisers said the practicalities of putting on the annual show was “impossible in the current circumstances”.

“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. “JMW Turner, who once planned to leave his fortune to support artists in their hour of need, would approve of our decision.”

The award has taken place every year since 1984 – except for 1990, ahead of its relaunch in 1991 as a contemporary art prize with a focus on emerging artists.

The 10 artists to be awarded bursaries will be selected by the Turner judges at the end of June. The £100,000 money for the awards has come from “a group of Tate’s supporters”, the organisers said.

The closure of private galleries and public exhibition spaces has greatly affected the ability of artists to market their work, though online sales have continued to take place during the lockdown.

It is not the first disruption to the prize in recent years. The most recent award in December 2019 was given to all four nominees at their request, asking not to be “pitted against one another” at a time of political crisis in the UK.

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