Since it was set up in 1984, the Turner Prize has become one of the best-known visual arts prizes. Each year, four artists are shortlisted, and the prize awarded for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation in the preceding year. The prize was first awarded in 1984. It was founded by a group called the Patrons of New Art who had been formed in 1982 to encourage wider interest in contemporary art and assist the (then) Tate Gallery in acquiring new works.
It is a controversial event, mainly for the exhibits, such as The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living - a shark in formaldehyde by Damien Hirst - and My Bed, a dishevelled bed by Tracey Emin. Controversy has also come from other directions, including a Culture Minister (Kim Howells) criticising exhibits, a guest of honour (Madonna) swearing, a prize judge (Lynn Barber) writing in the press, and a speech by Sir Nicholas Serota (about the purchase of a trustee's work).
Each year after the announcement of the four nominees and during the build-up to the announcement of the winner, the Prize receives intense attention from the media. Much of this attention is critical and the question is often asked, "Is this art?"
Artists are chosen based upon a showing of their work that they have staged in the preceding year. Nominations for the prize are invited from the public, although this was widely considered to have negligible effect—a suspicion confirmed in 2006 by Lynn Barber, one of the judges. Typically, there is a three-week period in May for public nominations to be received; the short-list (since 1991, four artists) is announced in July; a show of the nominees' work opens at Tate Britain in late October; the prize itself is announced at the beginning of December. The exhibition remains on view until January. The prize is officially not judged on the Tate show, however, but on the earlier exhibition for which the artist was nominated.
The media success of the Turner Prize contributed to the success of (and was in turn helped by) the late 1990s phenomena of Young British Artists (several of whom were nominees and winners), Cool Britannia, and exhibitions such as the Charles Saatchi-sponsored Sensation exhibition.
Most of the artists nominated for the prize selection become known to the general public for the first time as a consequence. Some have talked of the difficulty of the sudden media exposure. Sale prices of the winners have generally increased. Chris Ofili, Anish Kapoor and Jeremy Deller later became trustees of the Tate. Some artists, notably Sarah Lucas, have declined the invitation to be nominated.
Helen Marten has won the Turner Prize in 2016, and has said she intends to share the £25,000 award with her fellow nominees. The 31-year-old painter and sculptor brings together a range of handmade and recognisable objects from everyday life in her installations. A collection of her work on display at Tate Britain in London as part of the Turner Prize exhibition include works made from cotton buds, marbles, snooker chalk and bicycle chains. Accepting her prize from poet Ben Okri, Marten said she "wasn't expecting" to win and that she could not think of "a more brilliant and exciting shortlist of artists to be part of".