A guide to the UK's biggest art prizes

Jessie Thompson
Winning big: Helen Marten won the 2016 Turner Prize: PA

There’s the Brits, the Baftas, and the Booker, but what are the biggest prizes in the UK for artists?

Awards for the visual arts not only support and further the careers of artists, but are a great way of keeping up with the art world’s best talent. Below are the prizes worth keeping an eye on.

Turner Prize

The big one. The Turner Prize has been running since 1984, and artists on the shortlist often go on to become household names. It's been won by Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry, Steve McQueen, Wolfgang Tillmans and Gillian Wearing to name a few, and provokes great debates about art. Previously a lot of the work has been subject to sensationalist headlines, and this year was no exception, with Anthea Hamilton’s giant bum getting plenty of attention.

Hepworth Prize

The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture is a new prize given to artists who have made a significant contribution to the development of contemporary sculpture. The first prize was given last year to Helen Marten, just a few weeks before she was awarded the Turner Prize for 2016.

Artes Mundi

Established in 2003, this biennial prize is awarded in Wales by the non-profit art charity of the same name. Given at the National Museum Cardiff, the winner receives £40,000, and is usually an artist interested in conceptual approaches. In 2016, it was awarded to video artist John Akomfrah for his work about migration and refugees.

BP Portrait Award

This annual prizegiving takes place at the National Portrait Gallery, and is the most important portrait award in the world. It is open to everyone and has been running since 1980.

In 2016 it was won by artist Clara Drummond for Girl in a Liberty Dress. There’s also the Taylor Wessing Photographic Prize, which awards great portrait photography.

Jerwood Drawing & Painting Prizes

Awarded by the Jerwood Foundation, a charity that provides patronage for the arts, these are the country’s leading prizes for painting and drawing. The Painting Prize hasn’t been awarded since 2003, but the Drawing Prize is still going strong and accepts thousands of entries each year. Last year, it wentto Solveig Settemsdal for a nine-minute piece of video art.

John Moores Painting Prize

This biennial prize for painting is named after its philanthropist founder, who established the award in 1957. Winning work is exhibited in the Walker Art Gallery as part of the Liverpool Biennial. In 2016, Michael Simpson received the prize for depicting a structure outside a medieval church window.

New Contemporaries

This one really is for up and coming talent. It selects young artists who are either still studying or who have recently graduated, for an annual exhibition, helping them make contacts and get recognition with which to further their careers.

Max Mara Art Prize for Women

Organised by the fashion label Max Mara, in collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery, this prize is for a young female artist working in the UK. The winner gets a six-month residency in Italy, where she is tasked with creating a project to be displayed in Whitechapel.

Threadneedle Prize

Launched by the Mall Galleries in 2008, this prize celebrates representative and figurative art. In 2016, 25-year-old Lewis Hazelwood-Horner won for his striking Salt in Tea canvas showing craftsmen in a workshop, meaning he had a solo exhibition in the Mall Galleries in September.

K Foundation Art Award

Something slightly different here - this award was only given in 1994, to the worst artist of the year. Uncoincidentally, it had the exact same shortlist as the Turner Prize that year and promised to ‘amend art history’. Rachel Whiteread was awarded the prize just after her Turner win, and tried to refuse the £40,000 prize money. After being told it would be burnt, she gave £30,000 of it to artists in need of finance, and £10,000 to Shelter.

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