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Turner Prize, UK art's top award, axed for 2020

a close up of the face of a man: Oscar Murillo's papier mache people were nominated for last year's prize © Getty Images Oscar Murillo's papier mache people were nominated for last year's prize

The Turner Prize, the most high-profile award in British art, will not be given out this year because of the upheaval caused by coronavirus pandemic.

Tate Britain, which has organised the prize since 1984, said it would be impossible to organise the annual nominees' exhibition.

Instead, Tate will give bursaries each worth £10,000 to help 10 artists at this "exceptionally difficult time".

Past winners include Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry and Steve McQueen.

The last time it was not awarded was in 1990, after the award's sponsor went bankrupt.

'Hour of need'

Tate Britain director Alex Farquharson said: "Gallery closures and social distancing measures are vitally important, but they are also causing huge disruption to the lives and livelihoods of artists.

"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.

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

The prize is named after the great painter, who hoped to leave part of his estate to help "distressed landscape painters" and "poor and decayed male artists" after his death in 1851.

Tai Shani was also among the four artists who opted to split the award last year © Tate/Turner 2019 Tai Shani was also among the four artists who opted to split the award last year

Farquharson added: "I appreciate visitors will be disappointed that there is no Turner Prize this year, but we can all look forward to it returning in 2021."

The move to give equal amounts of money to 10 artists follows last year's decision to split the usual £40,000 prize between the four shortlisted artists.

The nominated quartet successfully argued that their work was "incompatible with the competition format, whose tendency is to divide and to individualise".

The prize has been controversial, gaining infamy in the 1990s with nominees and winners including Hirst's cows in formaldehyde, Tracey Emin's unmade bed and Martin Creed's empty room with lights going on and off.

According to the Tate's announcement on Tuesday, this year's judging had been at an advanced stage.

'Disruption and uncertainty'

"This year's jury has spent the past 12 months visiting hundreds of exhibitions in preparation for selecting the nominees," it said.

But the gallery said the decision to replace this year's prize with grants "was made to help support a larger selection of artists through this period of profound disruption and uncertainty".

The usual prize money has been supplemented by extra sponsorship to allow Tate to provide Turner Bursaries worth £100,000. The recipients will be announced in June.

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