Turner Prize 1984 Invitation

So this is where it all began, today I invite you to come back 27 years, well almost! To Tuesday 6th November 1984 when the first Turner Prize was awarded. Over the years the competition has been no stranger to controversy and has gone on to  make household names of many of its winners including;  Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst, Antony Gormley, Martin Creed, Tony Cragg and Richard Wright.

In 1984 the shortlist of finalists and the jury read as below:


(Links to Tate collection)


  • Rudi Fuchs, Director, Van Abbemuseum
  • John McEwen, art consultant, Sunday Times Magazine
  • Nicholas Serota, Director, Whitechapel Art Gallery
  • Felicity Waley-Cohen, Chairman, Patrons of New Art
  • Alan Bowness, Director, Tate Gallery

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Back in the 1980’s Tate was a very different beast from the one we know today, back then there was just Tate, no Liverpool, no St. Ives and certainly no Modern. The traditional gallery at Millbank showed very little contemporary art compared to today. One thing that was the same at that time was a serious cut in government funding which created the need for an injection of funds from the private sector.

To facilitate this Tate formed the Patrons of New Art, a group of high-profile individuals who as part of their remit to help with the purchase of contemporary art set up the Turner Prize competition. The prize  immediately gained both popularity and notoriety, when the initial prize ceremony was shown on the BBC it attracted an audience of 2 million viewers. But as I say, the competition had, even in this first year, attracted criticism. 

With some interesting nominations including; Richard Long’s Chalk Line (1984) and Howard Hodgkin’s Son et Lumiere (1983), along side first-rate works by Richard Deacon and Gilbert and George, the public and the media were at something of a loss to understand how the rank outsider, Malcolm Morley could possibly be announced as the winner. It was said that the judging criteria was based on the artists relevance to British art, so few could see how this applied to Morley, who had at this time  lived, practiced and exhibited in New York for the past twenty-five years and did not even turning up to collect the prize. It turned out that these feelings  were in fact justified when all of the other four finalists went on to win the prize within the next five years, the sequence only broken by Tony Cragg in 1988.

So that was how it all began and other the rather “quaint” way in which the work was exhibited it seems from my perspective that very little has changed. What do you think? Let me know. Tomorrow its back to the new work which I am developing here at Cow House Studios and then more past portfolio work. Next weekend more turner Prize with Karla Black and 1991.