Jesse Darling, a Berlin-based artist who uses everyday materials to explore societal concepts of class and labor, has won the U.K.’s most renowned art prize.
Darling, 41, was awarded the 2023 Turner Prize yesterday (Dec. 5) for his solo exhibitions “No Medals, No Ribbons” and “Enclosures”, which were respectively presented at Modern Art Oxford and Camden Art Centre. The former show, his largest to date, included whimsical works like a roller coaster bent into the shape of a wooly mammoth, while Enclosures examined Britain’s historic Enclosures Act.
The Turner Prize recognizes work created by British artists over the past 12 months and awards £25,000 ($31,000) to the winners. Meanwhile, shortlisted artists receive £10,000 ($13,000). Darling, who is originally from Oxford and studied at London’s Central Saint Martins and Slade School of Fine Art, beat out finalists Ghislaine Leung, Rory Pilgrim and Barbara Walker.
Exhibitions from all four shortlisted artists will be on view at the Towner Eastbourne gallery in South England through April 14, 2024. While the Turner Prize originated at Tate Britain, it travels across the U.K. every other year to institutions not affiliated with the Tate museum group.
The colorful history of the Turner Prize
Established nearly 40 years ago, the Turner Prize has for decades been one of the most prestigious honors in the art world. Named for innovative painter J.M.W. Turner, it recognizes artists making significant developments in contemporary art.
But like Turner’s radical work, the award has long been a source of controversy. Its contentious nature stems back to its inaugural recipient, Malcolm Morley, who art critics pointed out had lived outside of the U.K. for the past 20 years.
The prize often spurs discussions about whether certain pieces should be considered art at all, especially when it comes to members of the Young British Artist movement that emerged in the U.K. in the 1990s. Such was the case with Damien Hirst’s infamous shark displayed in a tank of formaldehyde, which led to his 1992 nomination for the award. While Hirst lost out to sculptor Grenville Davey, he won the prize in 1995 with another formaldehyde work involving cows. Similar discussions took place in 1998 with Turner Prize winner Chris Ofili over his paintings layered with cow dung, and during the 1999 exhibition of finalist Tracey Emin’s dirty unmade bed.
Protests have even been organized in response to the Turner Prize. The Stuckists, an art movement opposing conceptual artwork, for years have picketed the prize. Meanwhile, the K Foundation, an art foundation set up by members of the band The KLF, formed their own “worst of the Turner Prize’ award in 1993. They gave the prize to Rachel Whiteread, winner of that year’s Turner Prize and awarded her an additional £40,000 ($50,000).
It isn’t just artists that have received criticism—the prize in recent years has come under fire for its focus on the social engagement of work. Even presenters of the award, which have included celebrities like Yoko Ono and Jude Law, are not exempt. In 2001, Madonna made headlines when she swore on a live broadcast while presenting the prize.
But despite its colorful history, many Turner Prize winners have gone on to widespread acclaim after receiving the award. Past recipients include the likes of Anish Kapoor, Steve McQueen, Wolfgang Tillmans and Grayson Perry. Next year, the Turner Prize will return to the Tate Britain as it marks its 40th anniversary.