The scene in Friends where Joey forgets his ‘gracious loser’ face and, instead, throws a tantrum on camera at an awards ceremony is entirely relatable. Competition can bring out the worst parts of our personalities. Sure, we might not tantrum in public, but we’ve all been Joey at some point. Whether it was at school or upon discovering ABBA’s Greatest Hits collection, we’ve been taught to believe the winner really does take it all. Money, accolades, social status etc. But the times they are a changing, with a sway in cultural consciousness towards embracing joint prize-winners.
For the first time in its 35-year history, the 2019 Turner Prize has crowned all four contenders on the shortlist winners. The artists - Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo, and Tai Shani - jointly wrote to judges to request they consider awarding the Prize to them as a collective, splitting the £40,000 prize pot between them.
The artists said: “At this time of political crisis in Britain and much of the world, when there is already so much that divides and isolates people and communities, we feel strongly motivated to use the occasion of the Prize to make a collective statement in the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity – in art as in society.”
Tai Shani, DC Semiramis, 2019, installation, Turner Prize 2019 at Turner Contemporary. Photo by David Levene
The judges were on the same page. “In coming together and presenting themselves as a group, this year’s nominated artists certainly gave the jury a lot to think about,” Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain and chair of the Turner Prize jury. “But it is very much in the spirit of these artists’ work to challenge convention, to resist polarised world views, and to champion other voices. The jury all felt that this made the collective a worthy winner of the Turner Prize.”
The ‘sharing is caring’ gesture has been picking up steam of late. In April 2018, The New York Times and New Yorker magazine won a joint Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on sexual harassment allegations in Hollywood. Then in October this year, literary superstars Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo were announced as the collective winners of the 2019 Booker Prize, splitting the £50,000 prize (despite the rules forbidding it). Atwood’s response? “It would have been quite embarrassing for a person of my age and stage to have won the whole thing and thereby hinder a person in an earlier stage of their career from going through that door.”
Lawrence Abu Hamdan, installation view of Walled Unwalled 2018, Turner Prize 2019 at Turner Contemporary, Margate 2019. Photo by Stephen White
Oscar Murillo, installation Turner Prize 2019 at Turner Contemporary. Photograph by David Levene
Most famously, Adele even broke her 2017 Best Album Grammy award in two, saying Beyoncé deserved it more than her. “I can't possibly accept this award,” she said. "I'm very humbled and I'm very grateful, but Beyoncé is the artist of my life".
The single winner may well and truly have reached its expiry date, and now we’re all channelling Cady Heron in Mean Girls, metaphorically sharing our Prom Queen crown with the crowd: "A piece for Gretchen Wieners, a partial Spring Fling Queen. A piece for Janis Ian. And a piece for Regina George. She fractured her spine, and she still looks like a rock star. And some for everybody else. Because you're all rockstars.”