A Guide to the World’s Biggest Art Prizes; what’s an artists artist?

A Guide to the World’s Biggest Art Prizes



A holdover from the days of the French salon system, art awards provide distinguished organizations—museums, government bodies, corporations, philanthropic groups—with a way to honor the outstanding artistic talent of the day (and to burnish their own reputations in the process). With Grand Rapids’s headline-grabbing Artprize on the horizon, we’ve assembled a glossary of the world’s preeminent tokens of artistic achievement.


COUNTRY: The United States
AWARDED BY: The DeVos Foundation
WHAT IT IS: Numerous prizes ranging from $20,000 to $200,000, with the top honor awarded by public vote
AIM: To promote critical dialogue and collaboration throughout the year with the goal of decentralizing the traditional, top-down art competition
ELIGIBILITY: Any artist 18 or older who is able to secure an exhibition venue in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to show a specially created work
NUMBER OF WINNERS: 10 winners chosen by the public and six winners chosen by a jury of art world professionals.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: No other contest has endured more criticism from the art-world establishment than this one. Critics have dismissed the contest as a populist ploy to bring cultural prestige to Grand Rapids (aka outer Siberia, as far as Chelsea insiders are concerned), and labeled the art produced for the contest as mostly mediocre. Fans of the prize—which tends to go to large-scale realistic drawings—have lauded it as a visionary phenomenon free from coastal elitist snobbery that dominates the art world.
PREVIOUS WINNERS: Chris LaPorte, Ran Ortner, Mia Tavonatti


COUNTRY: United Arab Emirates
AWARDED BY: The Abraaj Group
WHAT IT IS: $1 million, split between five artists
AIM: To support the growth of contemporary art in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia
ELIGIBILITY: The artist must have been born in the Middle East, North Africa, or South Asia. Artists propose possible works that will then be funded; the finished works are then placed in the Abraaj Group’s collection and displayed at the Art Dubai fair.
NUMBER OF WINNERS: Five per year.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: This is the only award of its kind, and its significant sum ensures an investment in each recipients’ future. In addition, it unusually rewards proposals, not completed pieces.
PREVIOUS WINNERS: Vartan Avakian, Iman Issa, Huma Mulji, Hrair Sarkissian, Rayyane Tabet


COUNTRY: The United States
AWARDED BY: The Whitney Museum and the Bucksbaum Family Foundation
WHAT IT IS: $100,000
AIM: To honor a participant in the Whitney Biennial whose contribution to the show “demonstrates a singular combination of talent and imagination.”
ELIGIBILITY: Must be an artist included in the Whitney Biennial
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: The Whitney Biennial represents the pinnacle of the American art world, and this award focuses the prestige of the show on a single artist—often heralding the launch of an artist into fame (and certainly fortune).
PREVIOUS WINNERS:Mark BradfordRaymond Pettibon, Sarah Michelson, Zoe Leonard


AWARDED BY: The Association for the International Diffusion of French Art (ADIAF), Centre Pompidou, and FIAC.
WHAT IT IS: €35,000 ($45,000) in cash and up to €30,000 ($39,000) towards a piece to be exhibited at the Centre Pompidou.
AIM: “To promote French art, and to bring together the most innovative artists of their generation and encourage new artistic forms.”
ELIGIBILITY: Must be a French artist or artist living in France.
NUMBER OF WINNERS: One, from a list of four to five finalists nominated by collectors and ultimately chosen by a jury of curators, critics, and other collectors.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: This award has high cultural cachet because of the venerable institutions awarding it, and it never hurts a contemporary artist to be linked to the legacy of Marcel Duchamp.
PREVIOUS WINNERS: Mircea Cantor, Dominique Gonzalez-FoersterThomas Hirschhorn


COUNTRY: International
AWARDED BY: Victor Pinchuk Foundation
WHAT IT IS: $100,000 to $60,000 in cash and $40,000 towards the production of a new work, plus $20,000 to fund artist-in-residency programs for up to five other winners.
AIM: To give long-term support to the next generation of leading artists. Functions like an accelerator or incubator does for businesses, with the chance to be mentored by art-world superstars like Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, and Takashi Murakami.
ELIGIBILITY: Artists under the age of 35 from anywhere in the world.
NUMBER OF WINNERS: One main prize winner and six general winners, chosen from a shortlist of varying numbers by international art-world heavyweights like Massimiliano Gioni, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, and Hans Ulrich Obrist.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: This is the first award to pair young up-and-coming artists with mentors, and has a specific focus on the future. In addition, all submissions are made over the Internet.
PREVIOUS WINNERS: Cinthia Marcelle, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye


AWARDED BY: The Venice Biennale
WHAT IT IS: Actual statuettes of mini golden and silver lions
AIM: To honor the best national participation at the Venice Biennale (Golden Lion), and to honor the most promising artist at the Biennale (Silver Lion)
ELIGIBILITY: Must be an artist participating in the Venice Biennale (though there are also lifetime achievement awards)
NUMBER OF WINNERS: One per award
YEAR INSTITUTED: As it is awarded now, 1986 for the Golden Lion and 1998 for the Silver Lion
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: The Venice Biennale is the biggest event of the art calendar—it’s widely known as the Olympics of the art world. Winning one of these prizes is a mark of excellence at the highest level.
PREVIOUS WINNERS: Antoni Tapies, Nam June Paik, Marina Abramovic, Gerhard RichterChristian Marclay, Bruce Nauman, Christoph Schlingensief, Jenny Holzer, Daniel Buren, Tino Sehgal


COUNTRY: The United States
AWARDED BY: The Creative Time Summit, supported by the Annenberg Foundation
WHAT IT IS: $25,000
AIM: To honor an artist whose work promotes social justice
ELIGIBILITY: Open to all artists.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: A relatively recent addition to the art-prize circuit, this award seeks to highlight the political implications of socially engaged art, focusing on historically relevant art that is in dialogue with the public discourse.
PREVIOUS WINNERS: Fernando Garcia-Dory, Jeanne van Heeswijk, Rick Lowe


COUNTRY: The United States
AWARDED BY: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and funded by Hugo Boss, the German lifestyle and menswear brand
WHAT IT IS: $100,000 and a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York
AIM: To celebrate the arts
ELIGIBILITY: No restriction of nationality or age
NUMBER OF WINNERS: One, chosen by a jury of international curators from six finalists. The winner can be an individual artist or group of artists.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: The double punch of the Guggenheim’s respected name and a hefty monetary sum command respect. Though this art has been critiqued for encouraging the Hollywoodization of the contemporary art world, it has nonetheless awarded significant and deserving work and gains immense international attention.
PREVIOUS WINNERS: Matthew Barney, Douglas Gordon, Marjetica Potrč, Pierre Huyghe, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Tacita Dean, Emily Jacir, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Danh Vo


COUNTRY: The United States
AWARDED BY: The MacArthur Foundation
WHAT IT IS: $500,000 over five years
AIM: To support talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits
ELIGIBILITY: Nominees must be residents or citizens of the United States
NUMBER OF WINNERS: Typically 20 to 30
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: This prize, called the “genius grant,” is a life-changing honor. Not limited only to the visual artists, this award has been given to luminaries in fields as diverse as physics, medicine, history, and poetry. The MacArthur Fellowship is also unique in that the prize money comes in quarterly installments without qualifications or restrictions—it is truly “no strings” attached. In addition, there is no application process—recipients often learn that they have been considered only after they have won the fellowship.
PREVIOUS WINNERS: Uta Barth, Vija Celmins, Elizabeth Murray, Cindy ShermanKara Walker


COUNTRY: The United States
AWARDED BY: Performa
WHAT IT IS: $10,000
AIM: To award the best and most thought-provoking performance during the three week Performa biennial.
ELIGIBILITY: Must be under 40 years old, and must be participating in Performa.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: Named after Sex Pistols svengali Malcolm McClaren, it is the only major prize for performance art.
PREVIOUS WINNERS: Ragnar Kjartansson, Ryan McNamara


AWARDED BY: The Plastov Foundation, in conjunction with the All-Russia Creative Public Association and the Union of Russian Artists.
WHAT IT IS: $627,000
AIM: To foster contemporary figurative art, as in the style of the late Russia master painter Arkady Plastov
ELIGIBILITY: Any contemporary artist working in the figurative style. There are 16 possible categories—”Young Art” and “World Names” among them—which requirements specific to each, and the top prize is actually shared by several first-prize winners.
YEAR INSTITUTED: 2007, though 2013 is the first year that the prize money has been so substantial
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: The classics fight back. Figurative painting isn’t exactly the most popular genre in the contemporary art world, and the goal of this prize is to change that. Beyond that, the outrageous size of the prize money demands attention in and of itself.
PREVIOUS WINNERS: Galina Mishova, Arkady Egutkin, Anatoly Ermakov, Tatiana Gorshunova, Eugene Shibanov, Victor Safronov


COUNTRY: Switzerland
AWARDED BY: Swiss Private Bank Pictet et Cie
WHAT IT IS: The prize has two components—an award of $105,000, and “the Commission,” in which a nominated photographer travels to a region where the bank is supporting a sustainability project and creates a portfolio around that project
AIM: To support photography, specifically environmentally conscious work
ELIGIBILITY: Candidates must be nominated by a selected group of experts that changes with each cycle of the award. Recent judges have included representatives from Frieze and the New York Times.
NUMBER OF WINNERS: One, chosen from a shortlist of 12 to 18 artists and hundreds of nominations
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: This is the world’s first significant cash prize for photography.
PREVIOUS WINNERS: Benoit Aquin, Nadav Kander, Mitch Epstein, Luc Delahaye, Michael Schmidt


COUNTRY: United States
AWARDED BY: The artist Rob Pruitt, and sponsored first by the Guggenheim Museum, then by Art Fag City
WHAT IT IS: The honor of the award
AIM: Part award-ceremony-as-performance-art, part actually prestigious event, the awards were meant to celebrate high-profile achievements in the art world while satirizing the culture from which they originated. The event was first conceived as a reimagining of the Guggenheim’s annual fundraiser, which Rob Pruitt transformed into the Annual Art Awards.
NUMBER OF WINNERS: 10, from 10 categories.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: The awards began as satire but quickly turned into an embrace of art-world excess. In 2012, the awards were reincarnated as the Art Fag City Rob Pruitt Awards and Auction, but Rob Pruitt himself was not intimately involved in the prize’s second life: the satirical award ceremony was held with the goal of raising money for the Art Fag City blog.
PREVIOUS WINNERS: Louise Bourgeois, Sam Falls, etc.


COUNTRY: The United Kingdom
AWARDED BY: Tate Britain
PRIZE: £25,000 and an exhibition at Tate Britain
AIM: To honor contemporary visual art by a young artist. It was named after J.M.W. Turner because he was controversial in his own day and had wanted to establish a prize for young artists.
ELIGIBILITY: Must be an artist under 50 years of age born, living, or working in the United Kingdom and be selected to participate in the Turner Prize’s shortlist exhibition.
NUMBER OF WINNERS: One from a shortlist of four artists.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: As the most publicized art award in the U.K., the career-making Turner Prize has been controversial since its inception, and established itself as a lightning rod for conservative critics when the 1986 prize went to Gilbert & George (read an interview with them here). Prince Charles has said that the prize has “contaminated the art world,” yet the artists who have won the award have gone on to become enormously successfully, both critically and financially. Past shortlisted works have included dismembered, pickled animals (Damien Hirst’s 1995 Mother and Child), a bare room illuminated by a light going on and off (Martin Creed’s 2001 The Lights Going On and Off), and an unmade double bed littered with dirty underwear, condoms, and empty drink bottles (Tracey Emin’s 1999 My Bed).
PREVIOUS WINNERS:Malcolm MorleyHoward HodgkinAnish KapoorRachel WhitereadDamien HirstDouglas GordonSimon StarlingTomma AbtsLaure Prouvost, Wolfgang Tillmans, Chris Ofili, Richard Long

What Is an Artist’s Artist?

Artists, as humans, are especially sensitive instruments, keen to ferreting out objects and ideas that harmonize with their sensibilities, even where the rest of the world finds only incomprehension. So when an artist finds communion with the work of one of their peers, the bond that forms can be exceptionally strong—and frequently they embrace new work before curators, or the market, can catch up. Hence the term “artist’s artist,” which is applied to these figures whose art possesses some strange brilliance or idiosyncratic foresightedness that their fellow creatives cannot resist. Sometimes these artist’s artists are famous—Marcel Duchamp is a paragon of the category—but, just as often, they are as-yet-undersung talents whose time is still to come.

To highlight a few examples, Bryan Donnely (aka KAWS) collects works by R. Crumb, Peter Saul, Joyce Pensato, and Jim Nutt—all artists that share his fondness for social critique. Ugo Rondinone collects works by the underrated Alan Shields, who died in 2005, and by Nancy Grossman, whose work is resurfacing after a remarkable exhibition at Michael Rosenfeld gallery. Keith Sonnier collects works by his longtime friend Mary Heilmann, who had an overdue retrospective a few years ago at the New Museum, as well as works by up-and-coming artist Cordy Ryman (son of artist Robert Ryman). April Gornik is a big supporter of artist Lucy Winton, while Cindy Sherman collects vases by Michael and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess, the husband-and-wife duo whose comic-book-inspired pottery was “discovered” in the Hammer Museum’s current Biennial.

Look to the right for a curated group of pieces by notable artist’s artists on Artspace. Explore these works and, who knows, you might find something that touches your own artistic soul.