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Artsy: "Adrian Piper and Armenia Take Golden Lions, But Does the Prize Matter?"

May 15 2015

Portrait of El Anatsui. Courtesy of October Gallery. Photo by Andy Keate.

In her article for Arsty, journalist Tess Thackara takes us back in time, in order to analyze whether art prizes, such as the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lions, have had a considerable influence on the winner’s career, and what they mean today for contemporary artists.

"The Venice Biennale Golden Lions were awarded on Saturday to Armenia, Adrian Piper, and El Anatsui, the Silver Lion to Im Heung Soon," writes the author. "But what has been the historical significance of these prizes on past winners’ careers, and how do the jurors cast their vote?" Thackara goes back to 1968, when the Venice Biennale was "wracked by protests". Protests that were actually encouraged by some artists, who reacted to ‘what they saw as the widespread commercialization of art and the rising power of the critic’, and which led to the abolition of the Grand Prizes.

Eventually, the Biennale resumed its prize-giving in 1986 and adopted the Golden Lion (Leone d’oro). Since then the jurors of the Venice Biennale have selected candidates for its prize from a multitude of artists every two years — "but how do the jurors establish a value system across the aesthetic traditions and contexts of five continents, and how does the prize impact an artist’s career?"

The author goes one, questioning various art experts, such as Parisian gallerist Kamel Mennour, who admits that the Golden Lion had an impact on his artists’ career, such as Daniel Buren and Camille Henrot, and often helped to establish connections between an awarded artist and institutions or museums. In this context, Thackara also discusses the influence that the Biennale’s Chief Curator exerts over the Prize’s jury, and interviews Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy, a curator of contemporary art at the CPPC and former Jury member, on this matter. In fact, El Anatsui —a Ghanaian, Nigeria-based artist and Okwui Enwezor’s protégé won the Silver Lion this year, which makes the Curator’s influence on the Jury undeniable. Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy agrees with this fact but also makes a considerable statement: "The prize gives exposure to the artist’s work, as to the issues brought to bear by the work and how it has contributed to think differently. That’s what is important.”

Read Tess Thackara’s full article on Artsy.