What Has the Turner Prize Ever Done for Us? Artsnight


What Has the Turner Prize Ever Done for Us?

Magazine arts show. Waldemar Januszczak looks back over three decades of the Turner Prize to learn more about our relationship to the relevance and purpose of contemporary art.


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Transcript


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This programme contains very strong language

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Hmm, that looks familiar.

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So does that.

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I've definitely seen that before.

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And that.

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It's all coming back - every controversial,

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irritating and contentious moment of it.

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It's all coming back.

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The Turner Prize.

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The bloody Turner Prize.

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Every year, the great and the good of the art world

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get together and award a gong to the best display of British art

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of the preceding 12 months.

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And every year they find something that annoys us.

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Something about which the whole nation can howl.

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Because say what you want about the Turner Prize -

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and believe me, I have done -

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you have to admit, it's had a hell of an impact.

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In the 30 years it's been with us, the Turner has delighted

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and infuriated us punters in equal measure.

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It's turned unknowns into pillars of the establishment

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and even generated its own cranky opposition movement.

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I'm still a little unclear about what you got out of it, then, Jake?

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I didn't get anything out of it.

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It gives you a bit of confidence.

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You're basically recognised by the museums or curators

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rather than the market.

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Britain has turned from an nation that roundly ignored modern art

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into one that roundly can't get enough of it.

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And much of the credit for that - or is it the blame? -

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is due to the Turner.

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How did it happen?

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What went on?

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You're about to find out.

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Because this is the story of the Turner Prize.

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As we all know, the prize was named after Turner,

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Britain's greatest landscape painter,

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and every year, one thing that's guaranteed

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is that someone somewhere will write that Turner

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must be turning in his grave at the sight of the Turner Prize.

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I've written it myself, several times.

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So I wonder if it might have been more appropriate

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to have named it after another of the giants of British art,

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that cheeky, outrageous,

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sneering naysayer, Hogarth -

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whose contribution prepared the ground so well

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for all the enfants terribles that followed.

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As an homage to Hogarth

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and the long shadow he's cast over the Turner Prize,

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I'm dividing this film into four chapters in the style of

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Hogarth's great lament upon the descent of man,

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A Rake's Progress.

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This is The Prize's Progress,

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and to begin at the beginning, here's part one,

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in which the prize is born, before being born again.

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# Jitterbug

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# Jitterbug... #

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1984 saw the first Turner Prize,

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with a shortlist featuring Gilbert & George,

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Howard Hodgkin

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and Richard Long.

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At the time, starting the Turner was in itself an outrageous thing to do.

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These were still the austere, early days of the Thatcher era,

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and art was way down the list of national priorities.

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Britain was a nation of hardened modern art haters,

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still fuming at the Tate Gallery's acquisition

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of Carl Andre's Equivalent VIII,

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or, as they were called at the time,

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those damn Tate bricks.

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Britain needed a hero,

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and a hero duly stepped up -

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the then director of the Tate, Sir Alan Bowness.

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Sir Alan, when you started the Turner Prize,

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what were your thoughts, what were your hopes for this award?

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Well, I think primarily I was always very keen on modern art,

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particularly contemporary art.

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I just wanted to share that enthusiasm with other people.

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And I thought the idea of a prize

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appeals to a certain gambling instinct

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which I think is strong in the British people.

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The winner of the 1984 Turner Prize is Malcolm Morley.

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That was a bit of a blow, in a way,

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when the first prize went to a rather obscure name, Malcolm Morley.

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A good painter, British-born,

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but he'd been living in New York for many years.

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I then thought, well, maybe the very fact it's controversial

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is actually a very good thing.

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So what you're telling me is that, right from the beginning,

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this idea of a potential controversy was something

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-that was welcomed in the Turner Prize?

-Yes.

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Perhaps I shouldn't say that too publicly.

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You've just said it.

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Has it exceeded your expectations, or does it dismay you?

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I'm not sure that I'm entirely happy with the way art has developed

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in the last 40 years.

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And a lot of conceptual art doesn't really excite me.

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All the young people in the art schools want to do

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conceptual art or performances or film or video.

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Anything but paint a picture or make a sculpture.

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MUSIC: Ghost Town by The Specials

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As the decade rumbled on

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and all the artists on that first shortlist went on to win the prize,

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questions began to be asked about its purpose and its merit.

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It is intriguing that there were,

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I think, five artists shortlisted,

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from four in 1984,

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and they all won the prize in the following years.

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So, I think early on it was just ticking off

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all the people who they felt should have had it in the first few years.

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So it didn't get momentum.

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Was this just a distinguished service medal?

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Something you got for being around long enough?

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A fish,

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thrown to a sea lion.

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# This town

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# Is coming like a ghost town... #

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There was also the tricky question of money.

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How to pay for the prize.

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Thatcher's government wasn't going to help.

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They were taking money away from the arts, not adding to it.

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So the cash needed to come from private sources.

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Initially, from a group of wealthy art lovers

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called the Patrons of New Art.

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But then, at the end of the decade,

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an American investment bank called Drexel Burnham Lambert

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took over the sponsorship.

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And that was a disaster.

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Tonight, the collapse of Drexel Burnham Lambert, America's top...

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When the sponsorship fell out of the window in 1990,

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the Turner was immediately cancelled for that year,

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and its future was uncertain.

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So this is where we come to the next stage of the

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Turner Prize's scandalous progress,

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in which I, Waldemar, write a letter.

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You may not believe this, but in 1989 they made me head of arts

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at an upstart, young broadcaster called Channel 4.

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And when the Turner failed to materialise in that winter of 1990,

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I was surprised to find that I missed it.

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So I wrote to the newly appointed Tate director, Nicholas Serota...

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'Dear Nick...'

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..with an offer he couldn't refuse -

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to relaunch the Turner Prize with Channel 4's help.

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'Yours sincerely, Waldemar.'

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When Channel 4 took over the sponsorship,

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a number of things were changed.

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The prize money was increased to a mighty £20,000,

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and the shortlist was limited to four artists.

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The exhibition, which had been a rather piddly affair in the past,

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or not there at all,

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was expanded into an ambitious event,

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with each artist getting their own room.

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And to fit in with the ethos of Channel 4,

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we introduced an age limit of 50.

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Old enough to have achieved something,

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young enough for it to matter.

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I think that the concentration on it being on hot young things

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is perhaps what it should be,

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but I do think they miss out on some of the more interesting artists.

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There are some artists who are in their 60s or 70s

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who are up-and-coming artists,

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because maybe they started late,

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or just their work didn't develop until fairly later on in life.

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Phyllida Barlow is a good example,

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or Rose Wylie, 70s and 80s,

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who took time out to have kids, you know...

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Their careers took off in later life.

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But in 1991, a brave, new mood entered the Turner.

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The shortlist included a group of young Turks in their 20s,

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barely out of college.

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But the alpha male of the pack

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was the exciting sculptor Anish Kapoor,

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whose pigment masterpieces

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were so joyful to look at.

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Doesn't the idea of a prize,

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of being given something for your work like that,

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doesn't that unsettle you in any way?

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Yeah, terribly.

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When I received it, my first reaction was,

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"Ugh, it has nothing to do with me, I don't want to be part of this."

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And I think it is a natural thing for an artist to feel.

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You know, we plough our little field or big field or whatever it is,

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but we're not in competition with each other.

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Afterwards, what did you make of the growth of the Turner?

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The Turner, I think, for the next ten years or so,

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felt very relevant.

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It really had its hand on something

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that mattered culturally, yeah.

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And now, hmm, who knows? Who knows?

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So what you're saying is, those were the great years?

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Oh, yes, my dear Waldemar, of course they were.

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MUSIC: Parklife by Blur

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With his historic win,

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Anish opened the door to a new generation that was coming of age.

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The first of the group - known later as the YBAs -

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and, coincidentally, the first woman to win the prize in 1993,

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was Rachel Whiteread,

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whose remarkable outdoor sculpture...

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..House, had gripped the nation.

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My personal opinion is it is a monstrosity, absolutely grotesque.

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It might fit well into Welwyn Garden City or somewhere like that,

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but it doesn't fit well into our environment.

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-Yeah.

-It was about here, wasn't it?

-Yeah, it was around about here,

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the lamppost was actually centre to the piece,

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maybe a little bit over to the right, but, yeah, it was here.

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You were the beginnings of the YBAs, weren't you?

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Yeah, exactly, the YBAs, yeah.

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We were the first few fresh-faced YBAs

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to be put out for slaughter, yeah.

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So, Rachel, let's talk about the Turner Prize.

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You were actually nominated twice for it -

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the first time in 1991, when you didn't win.

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In 1993, when you did win it, it was really intense,

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the pressure, wasn't it, in that year?

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It was, because I was also nominated for something called

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the K Foundation Award, which was for the worst artist.

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-Which you also won.

-Which I also won, yes.

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It was £40,000, it was twice as much as the Turner Prize.

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-NEWSREADER:

-The £40,000 prize money was nailed to a picture frame,

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which was then transported back to London

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and chained to the Tate Gallery.

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They were going to burn the money and it would be my fault.

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This is Rachel's award, can we hear it for Rachel?

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APPLAUSE

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You know, I just said,

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"Well, OK, give me the money and I'll give it away,"

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which is what I did.

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So the actual day that you won also was the time when

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the announcement was finally made that House

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was going to be knocked down.

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If the purpose of modern art is to provoke us to think twice

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about the world we live in,

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then Rachel Whiteread's House has been a triumphant success.

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In the past three months, up to 100,000 people have visited this

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now-vanished monument to London's housing.

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There was a lot of pressure, a lot of stress,

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and actually, really made me quite ill, I'd say.

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It's a lot to deal with.

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For me, 1993 was the year when the Turner Prize really changed.

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It was the year in which it went from

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the back pages of the newspapers to the front page.

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-Because of House, because of its notoriety.

-Yeah.

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Yeah, I mean, I would say it was very divided,

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which is great, a good argument is a great thing.

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It questioned a lot about what art is.

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This was nearly 25 years ago,

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and, you know, there's a big difference to the arts scene now

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and how popular art has become.

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House changed everything.

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Suddenly the Turner Prize was on everyone's lips,

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and the shock tactics of the YBAs

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soon became synonymous with it.

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Nobody epitomised this new ethos more clearly,

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or more noisily, than Damien Hirst with his pickled beasties.

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-NEWSREADER:

-Infamous for his trademark

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pickled animals in formaldehyde,

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Damien Hirst disappointed no-one with his spliced cow and calf.

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This era of scandal and outrage

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heralds a new Hogarthian chapter in our story...

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..in which Waldemar is upstaged by a rascal.

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MUSIC: No Surprises by Radiohead

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In 1997, I put on my best yellow bow tie

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and went live on the telly to debate the question,

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is painting dead?, with a bunch of art world worthies.

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Unfortunately, it wasn't the serious discussion we had that night

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that'll be remembered.

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The night I was nominated for the Turner Prize,

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and at the dinner, there was a TV debate going on.

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I think Tim Marlow was chairing it and Tracey had left the dinner,

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Tracey Emin, and gone to be part of the panel,

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and was very drunk because there was a lot of drinks flowing that night.

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I'm the artist here from that show.

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From the sensation. I'm here, I'm drunk.

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I had a good night out with my friends and I'm leaving now.

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Tracey stole the show.

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Going nowhere with this fucking mic on me.

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But she wasn't even on that year's shortlist.

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A few hours earlier, the 1997 Turner Prize had been won

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by the acclaimed video artist Gillian Wearing,

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well-known for her arresting work.

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I wanted to make a still, moving image.

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Something that looked like a photograph,

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but, actually, is a film.

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And then, obviously, with Police Uniform,

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it's all about power and control.

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In the first couple of minutes, it really is a very static image.

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And then, obviously, people's individual personalities

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start to come through,

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and so it's actually a very, very mobile film by the end.

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One man actually screams and throws his helmet in the air.

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He said his wife said it was only going to be a couple of minutes,

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but he kind of did stand there for a whole hour.

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OK. So, this fantastic piece goes out and then, hey,

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you get to actually win the prize.

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Tell us about that. Obviously, it was a surprise?

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Yeah, it was a surprise.

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So when they mentioned my name, I remember, yeah,

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it was kind of quite surreal.

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I hadn't prepared a speech, I can't remember what I said.

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David Hockney said I shouldn't have won it because it was a video work.

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I'm not sure he'd say that now,

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because I actually saw a piece of his in LA recently.

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-That was a video work.

-He makes videos himself now, yes.

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Two years after Gillian Wearing won the Turner,

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Tracey Emin herself was nominated for an infamous work called My Bed.

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And the by-now customary tabloid outrage went into overdrive

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while visitor numbers went through the roof.

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As controversy followed controversy,

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the 2001 Turner was won by Martin Creed,

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whose blank installation The Lights Going On And Off

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gets my vote for the worst of all Turner Prize winners.

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I can't explain it.

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Except to say that the lights are definitely going on and off.

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Even more outrageous was that year's announcement ceremony...

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I'd like to thank you all for coming to my house.

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I hope you like my art collection.

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..where Madonna, presenting the prize,

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insisted on swearing before the watershed.

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I would also like to say, right on, motherfuckers.

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The Turner, it seemed, had gone too far again.

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So every year, regular as clockwork,

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the prize was now expected to serve up some juicy controversies.

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It had become a circus act,

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and the tabloids loved it,

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but somehow, despite all these distractions,

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it managed also to serve art properly

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and to reward some worthwhile talents.

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Jeremy Deller,

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Cornelia Parker,

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Wolfgang Tillmans -

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they all had cause to thank the Turner Prize.

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And so, too, did that lot over there.

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The so-called Stuckists.

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If you've heard of them at all, it's because of the Turner Prize.

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Every year, they turn up and protest about it.

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Why?

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Because they're stuck, stuck, stuck.

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That's why.

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Charles, good to see you again.

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Don't you feel particularly pointless by now?

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No, because we get a lot of publicity.

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-Is that all you're here for?

-Erm, no. We're here to make a point.

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We're here to represent a lot of artists

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who are completely unrepresented in the Turner Prize.

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But you started making this point what, 15, 20 years ago?

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-How long ago was it now?

-The first demonstration was in 2000.

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So, you're here more often than most of the Turner Prize winners?

0:20:000:20:03

Yeah. I think we should actually be the Turner Prize winners.

0:20:030:20:07

In fact, I'm looking forward to the demonstration

0:20:070:20:09

being nominated inside, and then we can demonstrate outside

0:20:090:20:13

against us being inside.

0:20:130:20:14

-I want an honest answer here, right? Honest answer.

-OK...

0:20:140:20:17

Actually, Charles, you love the Turner Prize, don't you?

0:20:170:20:21

Well, if it ended, we wouldn't be here talking to you,

0:20:210:20:26

so it fulfils a very useful function.

0:20:260:20:29

TV exclusive - the Stuckists love the Turner Prize.

0:20:290:20:32

The first thing about them is they're very bad painters.

0:20:330:20:36

And they go on about how great painting is and all that stuff,

0:20:360:20:38

but actually, technically, not many of them are that good.

0:20:380:20:41

And I'm sure most conceptual artists can paint just as well as or better

0:20:410:20:45

than a lot of those Stuckists, weirdly.

0:20:450:20:48

They're kind of the Ukip of art, aren't they, really?

0:20:480:20:51

The Stuckists were yesterday's story.

0:20:530:20:56

Most people in Britain today know a lot more about modern art

0:20:560:21:00

than they used to.

0:21:000:21:02

And all this talk about going back

0:21:020:21:04

to proper painting and sculpture is old hat.

0:21:040:21:08

These days, art's extraordinary power to change things

0:21:100:21:15

is recognised as a valuable national resource.

0:21:150:21:19

Which brings us to our final Hogarthian chapter,

0:21:190:21:23

where the Turner Prize goes north,

0:21:230:21:26

and west, and all over the place.

0:21:260:21:29

MUSIC: There There by Radiohead

0:21:310:21:33

While, for some, the 1990s were the heyday of the Turner,

0:21:330:21:38

I have a particularly soft spot for 2003,

0:21:380:21:42

when two of my favourite British artists squared up to each other

0:21:420:21:47

in a battle of the titans.

0:21:470:21:49

In the red corner was the ceramic cross-dresser Grayson Perry.

0:21:500:21:55

And in the blue corner

0:21:550:21:57

were those naughty Brothers Grimm, the Chapmans.

0:21:570:22:00

The year that Jake and Dinos and Grayson Perry were nominated,

0:22:030:22:06

that was a pretty exciting year,

0:22:060:22:08

and I think it was a big shock that Grayson won.

0:22:080:22:10

That's when he really came out with Claire, his alter ego.

0:22:100:22:14

Grayson's acceptance speech tickled viewers at home

0:22:140:22:17

who hadn't seen Claire before.

0:22:170:22:19

It's about time a transvestite potter won the Turner Prize.

0:22:190:22:23

And he's become a national treasure since.

0:22:230:22:26

It's a very difficult one to judge, that year, I think.

0:22:320:22:35

I think the Chapmans probably didn't play their strongest hand,

0:22:350:22:39

and there was a kind of quite puerile joke in it,

0:22:390:22:41

which probably didn't go down very well with anyone.

0:22:410:22:43

I met up with Jake Chapman and asked him what happened.

0:22:430:22:48

So, Jake, obviously, it put you face-to-face with Grayson Perry.

0:22:480:22:52

Everybody was always saying, one of these two's going to win.

0:22:520:22:57

You know, I did tell Nick Serota on the night

0:22:570:23:00

that he wasn't actually a little girl.

0:23:000:23:02

Grayson Perry wasn't actually... I think they were

0:23:020:23:04

under the impression he was actually a little girl and maybe they had

0:23:040:23:07

given him - her - the prize because they felt sorry for her.

0:23:070:23:09

-Didn't want him to cry?

-Yeah, exactly.

0:23:090:23:12

I'm still a little unclear about what you got out of it,

0:23:120:23:15

-then, Jake, because...

-I didn't get anything out of it.

0:23:150:23:18

-So why did you do it?

-Because it was another exhibition.

0:23:180:23:21

I mean, I think it's, you know...

0:23:210:23:23

I'd like to say it was an act of charity on our part,

0:23:230:23:26

but it was some... You know, it was just another exhibition.

0:23:260:23:28

I think, as artists,

0:23:280:23:31

our interest is in making art and showing it,

0:23:310:23:33

and having it operate in the world,

0:23:330:23:36

and I don't think we're that fastidious about where we show it.

0:23:360:23:39

In a sense, it was another place to just kind of off-load

0:23:390:23:42

a load of stuff that might cause some kind of minor irritation,

0:23:420:23:47

and then, you know, a glass of wine and then home.

0:23:470:23:49

The most significant development

0:23:510:23:53

in the Turner's story in the past decade

0:23:530:23:56

has been the biennial departure from London.

0:23:560:23:59

Since 2008, Liverpool, Londonderry and Gateshead have all hosted it.

0:24:000:24:07

Taking it out of London has been a very exciting move.

0:24:070:24:10

The response in Gateshead, the response in Glasgow,

0:24:100:24:15

the response in Derry/Londonderry,

0:24:150:24:17

and now Hull, has been really strong.

0:24:170:24:20

The show in Derry in 2013 was a tremendously moving event.

0:24:210:24:27

For once, the shortlist was excellent.

0:24:270:24:31

And the same barracks in which the British Army had been encamped

0:24:310:24:35

for all those dark years of the Troubles

0:24:350:24:38

were now the site of the Turner Prize.

0:24:380:24:42

Who says art cannot change things?

0:24:420:24:45

Last year, the prize went to Glasgow,

0:24:470:24:49

and amidst the usual grumbling,

0:24:490:24:52

much of it from me, it was given to a bunch called Assemble,

0:24:520:24:58

an architectural collective who'd regenerated a bit of Toxteth.

0:24:580:25:02

And who'd never thought of themselves as artists.

0:25:030:25:06

It gives us a few stars in Toxteth, where there has...

0:25:160:25:20

You know, if you say Toxteth to people,

0:25:200:25:22

the next word becomes "riots".

0:25:220:25:25

Whereas now, it becomes...

0:25:250:25:26

..resplendence.

0:25:280:25:29

When it came to crossing boundaries,

0:25:320:25:35

the Turner had lost none of its pioneering waywardness.

0:25:350:25:40

This call comes out of the middle of nowhere that you've been nominated.

0:25:400:25:44

I mean, it was a huge surprise for us.

0:25:440:25:48

So, through that, we were able to launch Granby Workshop.

0:25:480:25:51

It's a social enterprise based in this neighbourhood

0:25:510:25:54

which makes and sells products.

0:25:540:25:57

They're products which were originally designed

0:25:570:25:59

for the houses here, but then, through the Turner Prize,

0:25:590:26:02

we're able to open them up to kind of a global audience.

0:26:020:26:06

It makes people more interested in

0:26:060:26:08

the critical conversation around the work.

0:26:080:26:10

It's given a credibility to people working in these quite divergent,

0:26:100:26:13

quite diverse scenarios.

0:26:130:26:15

It's amazing now that, kind of one year on, out of kind of,

0:26:150:26:19

out of nothing, then we're building, hopefully,

0:26:190:26:22

a really sustainable project in the area, which will continue to bring

0:26:220:26:26

employment into this neighbourhood.

0:26:260:26:28

And that's kind of, you know, an amazing achievement, I think.

0:26:280:26:32

They may have trained as architects, but they were making art.

0:26:320:26:36

I think the Turner Prize is always rejuvenated

0:26:360:26:40

by expanding into new areas.

0:26:400:26:45

It's quite interesting, really, to have it broader in terms of how...

0:26:450:26:49

who can win.

0:26:490:26:50

In its 30 years and counting,

0:26:520:26:54

the Turner Prize has come a long, long way.

0:26:540:26:58

When it started, no-one liked modern art.

0:26:580:27:01

These days, we can't get enough of it.

0:27:040:27:06

And having hated the last two shows

0:27:070:27:10

and called, as always, for its scrapping,

0:27:100:27:13

I find myself enjoying this year's Turner rather a lot.

0:27:130:27:17

It's commendably tangible, commendably Hogarthian.

0:27:210:27:26

No dreary film and video, no architectural collectives,

0:27:260:27:32

no pointless lights going on and off,

0:27:320:27:35

just stuff you can look at and feel.

0:27:350:27:39

Anthea Hamilton's giant arse is quintessential Turner fodder.

0:27:400:27:45

Hogarth would have loved it.

0:27:450:27:47

Helen Martin's funny scatter art makes you peer and probe.

0:27:480:27:54

Josephine Pryde and her little choo-choo train

0:27:590:28:03

connects with the child within.

0:28:030:28:05

And Michael Dean's grim-up-North word sculptures

0:28:080:28:12

are sad and accusatory.

0:28:120:28:15

It's a good mix in a good show.

0:28:180:28:21

So, as sure as eggs is eggs,

0:28:210:28:23

next year is bound to be awful.

0:28:230:28:27

Turner Prize, I salute you.

0:28:270:28:31

And thanks for the memories.

0:28:310:28:33

The Turner Prize is probably the most prestigious contemporary art prize in the world. It puts art in the headlines - though not always for the right reasons.

In this programme, critic and broadcaster Waldemar Januszczak looks back over three decades of critical acclaim, public outcry and artistic controversy, hearing from the winners, nominees and judges to find out what the history of the prize can tell us about our relationship to the relevance and purpose of contemporary art.