Turner Prize: Helen Marten wins 2016 award

Painter and sculptor Helen Marten has won the 2016 Turner Prize.

The 31-year-old, the youngest of the four shortlisted artists, was announced as the winner at a ceremony at Tate Britain in London.

The prestigious £25,000 prize is awarded to a British artist, under the age of 50, considered to have put on the best exhibition of the past year.

It is the second major prize in the space of a month for Marten, who also won the inaugural Hepworth Prize.

She pledged to share the £30,000 Hepworth Prize with her four fellow nominees, because she believes “the hierarchical position of art prizes today is to a certain extent flawed”.

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”.

‘Extraordinary range’

Marten, who is from Macclesfield but now lives in London, faced competition from Anthea Hamilton, Michael Dean and Josephine Pryde for the Turner Prize, the aim of which is to “promote public debate around new developments in contemporary art”.

Marten was nominated for projects including Lunar Nibs at the 56th Venice Biennale and her solo exhibition Eucalyptus Let Us In at Greene Naftali in New York.

The jury said her work “is outstanding for its extraordinary range of materials and form” and that they admired its “poetic and enigmatic qualities which reflect the complexities and challenges of being in the world today”.

They added that Marten is “making an exceptional contribution to the continuing development of contemporary visual art”.

The runners-up each receive £5,000 prize money.

Marten’s installations shown at the Tate as part of the Turner Prize exhibition, which runs until January, included works made from cotton buds, marbles, snooker chalk and bicycle chains.

The Tate said that “her collage-like gatherings of objects and images have a playful intent, creating poetic visual puzzles that seem to invite us into a game or riddle”.

It added: “Marten encourages us to look very closely at the items she makes and the materials she uses, and to reconsider the images and objects we surround ourselves with in the modern world.”

‘World in flux’

The prize’s jury was chaired by Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain.

He told the BBC Marten had been chosen as her work has “incredible virtuosity”.

“She’s like a kind of poet when it comes to using materials, images and found objects,” said Farquharson. “The work is endlessly intriguing.

“It never settles at one meaning – it’s very, very open-ended and has multiple narratives. It suggests a world in flux.”

Farquharson said it had been a “very strong exhibition” but noted that Marten’s work was “amazingly crafted”, and showed “how visual images, not just words, can be made to signify, to mean things”.

“It doesn’t present you with an easy, simple, static view of itself,” he added. “The work is like reading very rich, very enjoyable, very elusive, quite enigmatic poetry rather than a very clear report on what happened in a newspaper.

“I think the thing is to enjoy it for its visual qualities, its physical qualities, and get lost in the game of meaning and games of composition that it offers up.”


Analysis by Will Gompertz, BBC arts editor

For someone who says she would prefer her work to do the talking, Helen Marten is spending a lot of time in the limelight.

Last month she made national news as the winner of the inaugural Hepworth Prize for sculpture, to which she has now added one of the world’s highest profile art accolades, the Turner Prize.

At 31 years old, she was the youngest artist on the shortlist – and, also, the most difficult to fathom in terms of her work.

Her hybrid sculptures, made out of materials both found and fabricated, form a complex tableau of ideas and associations. They are poetic puzzles that question meaning and assumption, and require an almost archaeological mind-set to solve.

She wants to jolt you, provoke you; throw you off balance. Things are not quite what they seem, objects don’t conform to our expectations, awkwardness abounds.


The other nominees were:

  • Anthea Hamilton, who lives and works in London, and was shortlisted for her Lichen! Libido! Chastity! exhibition at SculptureCenter, New York. The Tate said her sculpture, installation, performance and video bring “a surrealist sensibility to popular culture” and “seduce the viewer with comic and unexpected combinations of images, materials and words”.
  • Josephine Pryde, whose work focuses on the meeting point between art and photography. Tate said it examined the idea of “art as commodity and of the seductive qualities of the wider art world”, adding that she “calls into question the conventions of the gallery”. The artist, from Alnwick, Northumberland, was nominated for her solo exhibition Lapses in Thinking by the Person I am at CCA Wattis in San Francisco.
  • Michael Dean, from Newcastle, who was nominated for sculptures and installations made from “aesthetically overlooked materials” like salvaged corrugated metal from a shop shutter. The Tate said his work, seen at South London Gallery and de Appel arts centre in Amsterdam, is “concerned with the physical presentation of language”.

The ceremony was broadcast live on the BBC News Channel and BBC World and will also be available online shortly.


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