Having looked into the members of the individuals that make up the Turner Prize panel, I came to the conclusion that whilst it’s a decent step forward – the independent panel does indeed have three women on the five-individual board – which is, of course, a huge step in the right direction – or so it would seem.
Once you start digging into it all, however, these steps seem to fall apart very quickly. All five of these panel members are white, and one position is always given to the director of Tate Britain. This position is currently held by a Mr. Alex Farquharson, which means that there’s currently a guaranteed position for a male there. This wouldn’t be significant, but the role of Director of Tate Britain has been male apart from one individual. The only female to hold the role of Director of Tate Britain, Penelope Curtis, resigned from her position in 2010 after facing criticism from the wider art world, and facing mass calls to resign. This is something that none of her male peers in the position had – or currently have – faced.
Looking beyond the panel, it only seems to get worse. Not one person of colour has won the Turner Prize since 1999. By Steve McQueen. Yes, the director of Twelve Years a Slave, That Steve McQueen. There’s been only one all-female shortlist, and that was in 1997. Finding people of colour who have been nominated for the Turner prize is like trying to find a blade of hay in a needlestack. This goes well beyond panel positions, this is a problem directly inherent with the elite arts, and especially with UK elite arts.
There’s a consistent problem with the Turner Prize being this celebration of elitism within the arts – look for example at Ciara Phillips in 2014, such a remarkable artist within the exhibition – with very little chance at success, due to her career as a printmaker. Women don’t win the Turner Prize.
As much as it is great that women judge the Turner Prize, there’s still this “male artist” and “female artist” issue. Six women have won the Turner Prize. Twenty-four men have won the Turner Prize. Women aren’t inherently worse at art than men are, therefore there’s definitely an issue that’s a hell of a lot bigge.
So, do three women on a panel fix the clearly noticeable sexism and racism amongst the elite of the western art world? God, no. We need more than a few names on a temporary panel to change that.