Instant stardom and ...$100,000: Oligarch announces new art prize

Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons are among the people behind a new award for young artists launched by a Ukrainian billionaire. Andrew Johnson reports

Its wealthy and famous backers hope it will be the biggest art prize in the world – propelling the winners to instant reality show-style fame. Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons are two of the global art stars who are backing the Future Generation Prize, launched by the Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk last week. Elton John and the director of the Tate, Sir Nicholas Serota, are also involved.

Mr Pinchuk said the prize is to "discover and provide long-term support for a generation of emerging artists". Entrants must be under 35 and while the prize money of $100,000 (£60,000) may be comparatively modest, the global scope of the biennial competition and the promise of long-term mentoring by someone like Hirst means the winner could be propelled to instant stardom.

Applications will be via the internet and the winner will be picked by a jury made up of Mr Pinchuk and the heads of the world's leading museums, including the director of the Guggenheim in New York, Richard Armstrong, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, Glenn D Lowry, as well as Sir Nicholas Serota of the Tate.

Not everyone is convinced, however. Louisa Buck, the contemporary art critic of The Art Newspaper, was circumspect. "The more prizes that feed into the ecosystem the better," she said. "But Pinchuk seems to have picked a rather predictable line-up of judges: the big-name artists he collects and the Tate, which is always desperate for funding. These days everyone is especially keen to chase what's left of the oligarch rouble. The test will be to see if this prize has long-term legs or if it's just a one-hit wonder."

Damien Hirst said he was involved in the competition because "art needs to be encouraged". "All children draw and paint, and for some reason a lot of them stop," he said "In the beginning they all paint – even the bank managers, accountants and the lawyers. To encourage art is a great thing."

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