I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
As with many of the world's best ideas, the Turnip Prize originated in a pub in England. The award is a spoof of the Turner Prize that is handed out annually by the Tate Gallery in London for excellence in contemporary art. To say that some of the prizewinning Turner entries are controversial is a bit of an understatement.
The Turner Prize
To understand the Turnip Prize we first need to be grounded in the workings of the Turner Prize. Named after the British artist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) the prize was first handed out in 1984 and carries the monetary value of £40,000 ($55,400).
Contemporary (modern) artworks are submitted by British artists and judged. A short list of four pieces is selected and exhibited. Then, the winner is announced on a television show with luminous celebrities such as Madonna on hand.
The fun starts when the short list is announced because to many working stiffs the exhibits look as though someone is trying to pull their legs. Take The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a work created by Damien Hurst in 1992. It's a 14-foot dead tiger shark suspended in formaldehyde in a glass-panel display case.
The art world's cognoscenti were almost breathless in praise of this work of “genius.” The New York Times said “It gives the innately demonic urge to live a demonic, deathlike form.” Well, duh. That's obvious, and that's why the owner of the New York Mets paid at least $8 million to acquire the piece.
But, what got the customers of the The George Hotel in Wedmore, Somerset stirred up was My Bed by Tracey Emin. It consisted of the artist's bed with sheets in a rumpled state surrounded by detritus such as empty vodka bottles, condoms, underwear, and slippers.
My Bed was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999 and it triggered a storm of controversy. But, rather than just snorting in derision at an example of what most people saw as the intelligentsia of the art world gone mad, the patrons of the George Hotel took action and created the Turnip Prize.
The Turnip Prize
Under the guidance of Trevor Prideaux, the Turnip Prize has, since 1999, been open to anybody who wishes to enter anything. Prideaux explains that the concept behind the competition is to produce “crap art;” the foundational principle being “We know it's rubbish, but is it art?”
The winner each year gets the greatly coveted award of a turnip impaled on a rusty six-inch nail and mounted on a scruffy-looking block of wood.
Special attention is also paid to the lack of effort put into the creation; the less exertion the better. If the judges decide a competitor has worked too hard on their entry it will be disqualified.
Another essential element in Turnip Prize is intentional humour to contrast with what is thought to be the unintentional humour that is created by Turner Prize aspirants. Pun titles and alliteration are greatly preferred.
So, here is a selection of winners:
- 1999—Two burned bread rolls on a griddle entitled Alfred the Grate. This references the legend that the Anglo-Saxon king Alfred the Great burned some cakes he was supposed to watch over. We can hope that the quality of the crap art gets better, and it does. Completely, overlooked in 1999 was a far better entry: a glass jar filled with razors, and needles entitled Sharp-Infested Waters.
- 2001—This was brilliant; it was nothing; that's right, absolutely nothing. Displaying a total lack of effort, Chloe Wilson was no doubt channelling the Italian “sculptor” Salvatore Garau who persuaded an “investor” to spend $18,300 to buy his invisible statue Io Sono (Italian for “I am”). (C'mon Sal we know that behind your esoteric explanation of the value of your work you are secretly giggling).
There seems to have been a rather lacklustre spell lasting several years. It may have had something to do with a change of venue. In 2003, the headquarters of the Turnip Prize moved from the George Hotel to the New Inn but still in the village of Wedmore.
- 2013—An entrant calling himself Percy Long Prong (no doubt making a boastful allusion to the size of his masculine endowment) placed a copy of William Shakespeare's Macbeth on top of the Oxford Everyday Dictionary and entitled it A Play on Words. 2013 was a bit of a banner year because Chris McKinley presented his runner-up work that was simply a jar that he called Slightly Open.
- 2014—Ms. Drunken Shepherd won by offering up a sleeping sheep that she name Ewe Kip, a clever play on the UKIP (The United Kingdom Independence Party) the right-wing populist group of scoundrels who lied and led Britain out of the European Union.
- 2015—Bonksy (allegedly a rocket scientist) drew on the fame of the street artist Banksy by writing the word “Dismal” followed by an ampersand. This paid tribute to Banksy's parody of Disneyland that he erected at a British seaside resort and that he called “Dismaland.” Banksy described it as a “family theme park unsuitable for children.”
- 2020—Herewe Goagain won with a contemporary reference to COVID-19 in Lockdown, a padlock nestled into a pile of down feathers from a duck.
How to Enter the Turnip Competition
Perhaps, you think you've got it what it takes to win a Turnip Prize. Remember the guiding principles for entrants are to create “something they perceive to be crap art using the least amount of effort possible.”
There must be humour involved, the more tortured the pun the better. Entries must be received physically in the first three weeks of November at the New Inn, no photographs. Full contest rules are available at the Turnip Prize Facebook page.
Here's some advice from Miss Quick who won in 2012 with a package of Tena incontinence pads with three of them sticking out from the top. Her “artwork” was entitled The Three Tenas: “I truly feel that the lack of effort has really paid off. I aimed low and luckily reached rock bottom, which is more than I could have ever dreamed of. I am amazed at what my mediocrity and indifference has achieved.”
Trevor Prideaux commented on Miss Quick's success “She clearly has what it takes to be recognised in modern art circles and will be remembered in art history for no time at all.”
- The Edinburgh College of Art introduced its Turnip Award in 2002 in which students are challenged to carve something out of a turnip.
- In 2001, Martin Creed's piece Work No. 227: The Lights Going on and off , won the Turner Prize. It consisted of an empty room in which the lights turned on and off every five seconds. Art critic Louisa Buck called it “an important work.” And added “It’s not easy viewing.” However, the editor of a satirical art magazine, David Lee, said the Turner Prize judges had previously scraped the barrel, but “this year they are scraping the scrapings.”
- “How the Turner Prize Became One of Art’s Biggest Awards.” Scott Indrisek, artsy.net, November 29, 2019.
- “Banksy Dismaland Show Revealed at Weston's Tropicana.” BBC News, August 20, 2015.
- “Turnip Prize: Finalists in Spoof Art Competition Revealed.” BBC News, November 27, 2019.
- The Turnip Prize on Facebook.
- “Taking the Pee: 'The Three Tenas' Crap Art Prize Winner Really Is Pants.” Roland Ellison, Daily Mirror, December 3, 2012.
- “Tate Acquires Martin Creed's Controversial Turner Prize-Winning Piece Work No 227.” Nick Clark, The Independent, September 2, 2013.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Rupert Taylor
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 13, 2021:
I like the read. It's very interesting.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on September 13, 2021:
This is hilarious. I guess some people have nothing better to do than come up with crap and others have nothing better to do than judge it and award prizes!
Joanne Hayle from Wiltshire, U.K. on September 13, 2021:
I'd never heard of the Turnip Prize. Ingenious. Great write, great to see you back and writing! :-)
Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on September 13, 2021:
As usual, an interesting read. Rutabagas, er, turnips, are back in fashion ;)
Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on September 13, 2021:
Wonderful information and observations. First came rutabagas... now the turnip.