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Praemium Imperiale: 2023 Arts Awards Showcase Creativity and Sustainability

The 2023 Praemium Imperiale Awards recognize excellence in fine and performing arts and archtecture, much like the Nobel Prize recognizes the sciences.



Clockwise from the upper left, the 2023 laureates of the Praemium Imperiale are Robert Wilson (Theater/Film), Vija Clemins (Painting), Diébédo Francis Kéré (Architecture),  Olafur Eliasson (Sculpture), and Wynton Marsalis (Music). (Collage from images provided by the Japan Arts Association.)

On Tuesday, September 12, The Japan Art Association announced the names of the new Praemium Imperiale Laureates in Washington DC, London, Paris, Rome, Berlin and Tokyo.  We are pleased to introduce the recipients as follows: 

  • Painting: Vija Celmins (United States) 
  • Sculpture: Olafur Eliasson (Iceland/Denmark) 
  • Architecture: Diébédo Francis Kéré (Burkina Faso/Germany) 
  • Music: Wynton Marsalis (United States) 
  • Theater/Film: Robert Wilson (United States) 

Each artist is recognized and awarded for their achievements, including the impact they have had internationally on the arts and their role in enriching the global community. 

Additionally, each laureate receives an honorarium of ¥15 million JPY (approximately $104,000 USD) and a testimonial letter. A medal will be presented by Prince Hitachi, honorary patron of the Japan Art Association, in the Awards Ceremony held in Tokyo on October 18, 2023. The Meiji Kinenkan is playing host site for the event. 

Diébédo Francis Kéré will also hold a commemorative architecture lecture on October 19, at 16:00 JST. This will bring the event back into full swing for the first time since the pandemic.

Furthermore, the 2023 laureates join a roster of 170 artistic luminaries. Ingmar Bergman, In the past, the awards have celebrated the work of Leonard Bernstein, Akira Kurosawa, Renzo Piano, and Ravi Shankar, among others.

The 2023 Laureates of the Praemium Imperiale.

Meet the New Laureates

Congratulations to each of the laureates for their lifetime of creativity and artistic contributions to humanity. 


At Vija Celmins Studio, Long Island, New Yor, May 2023 (©️ The Japan Art Association / The Sankei Shimbun)

The new laureate in Painting is Vija Celmins (pronounced VEE-ya SELL-muns). When she talks about her work, she says, " I think I paint things I cannot say." Born in Riga, Latvia, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, her family escaped from the Soviet army's invasion. They later emigrated to the United States in 1948. 

She has been fascinated by the ability of a painting to have depth of imagery while also remaining flat. It is the duality of finding that these experiences could be created through her work that stimulates Celmins' artistic vision. 


Little girl playing with Little Sun (Original) in Ethiopia Photo: Merklit Mersha Courtesy of Olafur Eliasson Studio

Next comes an artist who has broken convention with his works. Color, light, water, ice. These are just some of the natural elements that sculptor Olafur Eliasson skillfully employs in his thoughtful, wide-ranging artworks. 

Much of the artist's inspiration has come from experiencing nature as a boy in Denmark and Iceland. The artist's upbringing further motivated him to challenge global environmental issues through his art. His works are designed to alter perception and raise awareness while creating a sense of wonder. 


Gando Primary School outside view with sitting children. Image by Siméon Duchoud. 2001, Burkina Faso Photo: Siméon Duchoud. (Courtesy of Kéré Architecture.)

Diébédo Francis Kéré comes all the way from Gando, Burkina Faso. He first left his home to attend school when he was 7. Studying in dark, unventilated buildings was what first motivated him to build better spaces. 

After also studying in Germany, Kéré transformed the sector in Burkina Faso, across Africa and beyond. His signature technique is combining local materials and skills with innovative design and smart engineering solutions. Meanwhile , he maintains a focus on working with local communities.


Wynton Marsalis at Jazz at Lincoln Center, January 2023. (Photo: Lawrence Sumulong)

In the field of music, Wynton Marsalis is a world-renowned trumpeter. He is also a bandleader, composer, and a leading advocate of American culture. Raised in a musical family in New Orleans, Louisiana, he began performing jazz and classical trumpet music from an early age. 

In 1980, just after moving to New York to attend The Juilliard School, he toured with the legendary Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Throughout the four decades since, he has rekindled widespread international interest in jazz through performances, educational initiatives, books, curricula, and public advocacy. 


Robert Wilson at the collection archive of The Watermill Center Long Island, New York, May 2023 (©️ The Japan Art Association / The Sankei Shimbun)

Finally, Robert Wilson has over the decades created some of the most important and memorable works in contemporary theater. He is known for crafting stunning set designs, arresting lighting and radical choreography. Through these he has created an artificiality of the stage where time and space are redrawn and the experience of the audience is also reimagined. 

Upon moving to New York in the 1960s, Wilson founded the experimental performance collective "Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds." Internationally, his reputation was further built with the 1971 performance in France of Deafman Glance


The Grant for Young Artists 

Andrew Freear is the director of Rural Studio (©️ The Japan Art Association / The Sankei Shimbun)
James C. Horton is President & CEO of the Harlem School of the Arts (©️ The Japan Art Association / The Sankei Shimbun)

2023 recipients of the Grant are Rural Studio and Harlem School of the Arts. Both are located in the United States. The choices were presented by the International Advisor Hillary Rodham Clinton

Each recipient will be presented a grant of ¥ 2.5 million JPY (approximately $17,000 USD) to assist its efforts to help young artists. 

Rural Studio

Praemium Imperiale
Director Freear congratulating Rural Studio students who will graduate from Auburn University at the annual “Pig Roast & Valediction Ceremony.” Newbern, Alabama, April 2023. (©️ The Japan Art Association / The Sankei Shimbun)

The first recipient, Rural Studio is a design-build architecture program. It is run by Auburn University's School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture in Alabama. Initially, it was founded in 1993 by Samuel Mockbee and DK Ruth. 

Rural Studio's guiding ambition is to help students understand social responsibility in architecture through direct involvement in construction work as well as design. In 2004, the Studio started the 20K Project. Through it, young participants explore housing prototypes that aim to be affordable, energy efficient, and resilient, while still maintaining high-quality design.

Harlem School of the Arts

Lesson in a piano class at HSA. The teacher also graduated from this school. (©️ The Japan Art Association / The Sankei Shimbun)

The second recipient is the Harlem School of the Arts (HSA). Founded in 1964 in Harlem, New York, by African-American soprano Dorothy Maynor, the school provides a safe space for young people to explore their creativity. 

HSA teaches approximately 1,600 students aged 2 to 18 annually and offers interdisciplinary training in music, dance, theater, and visual arts. Of those, 80% are African American and Latino, and 75% receiving financial assistance. Instruction is led by professional artists, ensuring students learn from those with direct industry experience.

Important Recognition of Young Artists

The Grant for Young Artists was established in 1997 to support and encourage the activities and action plans of young artists. It's aims are in line with the aims of the activities of the Japan Art Association. 

Promising young artists, either professional or training to become so, and organizations that actively contribute to the development of young artistic talent are eligible for the award. 

A Historical Accolade

The Japan Art Association was established in 1887 and it is the oldest cultural foundation in Japan. It operates the Ueno Royal Museum located in Ueno Park in Tokyo. Additionally, it organizes and holds art exhibitions. 

In 1988, the Japan Art Association established The Praemium Imperiale to commemorate the centennial of the organization. It seeks to realize the wish of the late Prince Takamatsu, who served as honorary patron for 58 years, "to contribute to enhancing and promoting the cultures and arts of the world.” 

The nomination committees are led by an impressive array of international advisors. They are Lamberto Dini (former Prime Minister of Italy), Christopher Patten (Chancellor of the University of Oxford), Klaus-Dieter Lehmann (former President of the Goethe-Institut), Jean-Pierre Raffarin (former Prime Minister of France) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (former US Secretary of State). 


Author: JAPAN Forward


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