Yes, it's that time of year again when the Turner Prize grabs the headlines and draws attention to conceptual art in all its gory details. The annual £25,000 prize, awarded to an artist under 50 living in the UK, is staged at Tate Britain (you can read our review of the short list exhibition here).
Despite the years of controversy, 'bad' art and dubious judging techniques, it still remains the most coveted and talked-about art prize. This may be no secret, but there are hundreds of other art prizes that run throughout the year, bringing exposure to emerging artists. Since the Turner rarely deserves their record draw and the amount of press it receives, I've decided to give some much-needed space to life beyond the Turner Prize. Here's what to look out for:
Matt Roberts Arts Project Space is one of the many small art galleries that live on Vyner Street in Bethnal Green, East London. The gallery is quite keen on creating an artist community, and entry to the competition comes with a 12-month membership – and further career development. The entry runs over the summer but the exhibition itself is just round the corner, starting from 12th October until 3rd November. The 120 chosen practitioners are divided into 4 different categories: painting, 2-D media, photography and sculpture; each bestowing £500 on the winner and £1000 for the winning painting (thanks to corporate sponsorship). The overall winner takes away a further £8000. The judges are quite an impressive bunch from the art world, including big wigs from Tate Liverpool, the V&A and the BALTIC art centre. The exhibition has a lot of kudos within the East London arts community and is a good place to take in the latest talent emerging from this creative hotbed.
Since its inception in 1949, the Bloomberg New Contemporaries has been giving space to the art produced by graduates from British schools. It is unfaltering in its impressiveness and regularly marks the artists to watch in the future – Chris Ofili, Louise Wilson and Gillian Wearing have all been in it. Whether it's down to the freedom of art school or the astute selection panel, the exhibition is often the highlight of my year (exhibition-wise). It tours the country and so can be seen in different cities. Selectors are a mixture of artists and industry professionals, including the amazing Derek Jarman and Wolfgang Tillmans. The exhibition always pays a visit to Liverpool Biennial, where it is currently housed. Luckily, it's coming to London too at the end of November – be sure to catch it then.
The Woon Foundation Painting and Sculpture Art Prize
The recent announcement of a new graduate art prize donated by Singaporean lawyer Wee Teng Woon could spell a little competition for Bloomberg. Its whopping prize money of £40,000 is double that of the Northern Art Prize and is specifically for final year graduates studying Fine Art at Northumbria University. It could be a prize to watch in the future.
Zeitgeist Open Submission Exhibition
What's interesting about the ZAP (Zeitgeist Art Project) submission, and what separates it from the rest, is that the judging process is undertaken by examining only the submitted work. The individuals do not supply a CV, a photo or even a name. They simply supply their work and a brief statement, which is only called upon if the judges want further info. Their judging panel is made up of artists, "not oligarchs!", in a bid to make the process just about the work (whether a good art buff can tell the quality of the work without a name is perhaps an interesting question for them). But their democratic, transparent approach is winning them plenty of votes in the art world; it is certainly a far cry from the 'fixing' of Lynn Barber's Turner judge days. The exhibition takes place in November and showcases between 40 and 50 artists. It's a good place to see upcoming artists in a similar vein to Matt Roberts, since it's about nurturing talent and creating a dialogue for the often, isolated artistic practitioner.
The Turnip Prize
As its name suggests, this farce competition offers little more to its contenders than a prize of a turnip nailed to a piece of timber. The competition is open to all except the judges, past winners and politicians ("they are so used to producing and justifying shit they have an unfair advantage"). Submission of work is at the New Inn, Wedmore (I had to get the map out, too), but art bods further afield can make a postal submission. Their motto stands in direct opposition to the Turner Prize, "We know it's shit but is it art?" – and points are awarded for the level of 'shitness' the art works are deemed to exude.
They aren't the only prize to rise in opposition to the mighty Turner however – back in 1994, the K Foundation devised "the worst artist of the year" award – the shortlist of which was, perhaps unsurprisingly, identical to the Turner prize list. That year Rachel Whiteread was hand-delivered her £40,000 prize, shortly after winning the Turner.
If nothing else, the Turnip provides a much needed joke at the art world's expense: a community that can take itself much too seriously. Democracy lives on.