By opening up to older artists, is the Turner prize losing its edge?

Hull is a very distinctive destination. It’s not a place you pass through. It’s a place you arrive at. Hull Trains spirits you up from London, and when you reach this exposed spit of land in East Yorkshire, you (almost) hit the buffers. The only way of leaving again is by going into reverse. To get elsewhere, you have to think again. It’s an old port city, with all the wild, raucous, sea-wind-whipped energies you might expect of such a coming-and-going place. The old cobbled streets beside the canal positively judder and jump to all the Saturday-night street revelry. It’s also the current UK City of Culture.

And now the Turner Prize is here because since 2011 it has been staged somewhere other than at Tate Britain in London. The Turner gets shared around every other year – like a bag of boiled sweets. It’s gone on brisk walkabouts to Glasgow and Gateshead in the recent past. Is it particularly toothsome this year? Over-sugared? Too disgusting for words? None of those things alas, as it happens.

The rules have changed. The upper-age limit restriction has been lifted so that artists of any age can now be in contention with each other for the £25,000 prize money. Is this a problem? It could be. Hockney could win it next year. Fortunately, the gifted dead are not eligible. The mighty Titian will never have to show his faltering hand, even had he not also been ineligible on the grounds that he was a gifted Venetian.

There are four artists in the shortlist, you recall, and each of the losers gets a consolation prize of £5,000. Not bad for a loser. Last year’s winner, the saintly philanthropic Helen Marten shared her winner’s cheque with the losers too so that everyone ended up on even ground. What a triumph of egalitarianism!

Hurvin Anderson’s landscapes manage to coalesce into a pleasingly lyrical single image (David Levene)

The Turner is a strange beast. Always has been. Part triumph, part farce, part tragedy, you never quite know what it’s going to throw up next. Has it really been going for 33 years? Its follies always seem so youthful. Who could ever forget that on-and off light bulb? In the 1990s, it helped to define a group of British artists that came to be known collectively as the YBAs: Hirst, Lucas, Emin. They all either won it or nearly won it. You could argue that the dozen years from 1991 onwards was its best decade. Why? Could it, at least in part, to do with the fact that the upper-age limit of 50 was put…

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