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Sculpture Laureates of Praemium Imperiale: Go… Find New Ways to Be and to Live

The crisis has had a tremendous impact on the way visual art is viewed: everything has become flat and immaterial.



~Every work of art is unique and original, and is an integral part of the artist’s being. Its power lies in its ability to ask questions and awaken emotions that connect us both collectively and individually. (Anette Messager, 2016)~

(Third of 6 parts)


Part one: Praemium Imperiale International Advisors

Part two: Praemium Imperiale Laureates in the category of Painting

Part three: Praemium Imperiale Laureates in the category of Sculpture

Part four: Praemium Imperiale Laureates in the category of Architecture

Part five: Praemium Imperiale Laureates in the category of Music

Part six: Praemium Imperiale Laureates in the category of Theatre/Film

Among the pleasures of autumn, the annual Praemium Imperiale Awards are among the most highly anticipated in the global world of arts. This year, the 32nd anniversary of the awards ceremonyーinitiated by the Japan Art Association in 1988 to honor the artsーhad to be postponed until October 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

To reaffirm the importance of the arts, the organizers asked previous Praemium Imperiale laureates for their thoughts and reaction to this pandemic. 

Several guide questions were posed: 

  • The impact of the coronavirus on art’s network of social connections, 
  • The  way they view and create art,
  • The role of the arts in these difficult times, and 
  • The important  lessons that they, as artists, have learned from this crisis. 

The wide variety of encouraging messages received from a total of 5 international advisors and 47 laureates in five categories have been compiled into a special issue of the 2020 Praemium Imperiale Yearbook, providing a valuable testimony of this global crisis from the great artists of our time. Their comments are presented in six parts, according to the artist’s form of participation and artistic category. 

Excerpts of the varied and thoughtful comments of the Praemium Imperiale Laureates in Sculpture follow.

1990 Arnaldo Pomodoro (Italy) 

We must ask ourselves how we can, in the future, ensure that we keep both the right physical distance while maintaining the necessary emotional closeness. I think and fear that it will be a difficult balance to find or create. Either we will be able to rethink the relationship between individual freedom and pandemic, or we will not be able to fight a battle that is not only medical but also political and social.

2002 Giuliano Vangi (Italy) 

As for my own work, I would do away with any of the things that are dictated by fashion, and I would try to add positive feelings; after dealing with the theme of human suffering so often, I believe that what we now need is a greater sense of hope. People will need art and culture more and more. Art makes manifest the noblest efforts of all people, which is our greatest act of  resistance when faced with our own mortality.

2008 Ilya & Emilia Kabakov (Russia/USA)

If we learn to overcome the main problems of our world: discommunication, fear of unknown, fear of the other, learn The Art of Communication, The Tolerance toward other cultures, religions, preferences, learn not to demand freedom only for ourselves, but to RESPECT THE OTHER PEOPLES FREEDOM, then we stand a chance, maybe, even for creating a perfect life for everybody on our  planet. And ART and CULTURE plays a pivotal role in this. Always did and always will.

2011 Anish Kapoor (UK)

The arts give us belonging and social connectedness. Participation in the arts is an act of communal solidarity which is most needed at this time of crisis.

2012 Cecco Bonanotte (Italy) 

We have to let break out the lights of a new dawn or a sunset, entrust the artist with the duty to re-interpret the images of the world in front of us, those physical and those abstract objects inside us to let reemerge our inner soul and to create a new vision. Artists feel seduced by the conquest of an ‘artistic  dignity and we do not have to forget that artistic evolution is nothing but the stubborn pursuit and constant rise towards that dignity.

2013 Antony Gormley (UK)

Art will become central as a catalyst for collective and individual self-awareness: for the expression of feeling and empathy, for self-expression and self-determination, as well as the expression of communal values, materializing and making apparent the things that we love and believe to be valuable. The Arts will be more important than ever.

2014 Giuseppe Penone (Italy) 

A pandemic crisis can certainly, as a consequence, reduce the democratic freedom we are accustomed to, and art can and must counteract and defend the freedom of the individual, because art lives with the sensations and the feelings of people. It is based on the stimuli of our mind that govern our capacity for emotion, imagination, commotion that we feel by confronting ourselves and nature. They are the characteristics that bring us together and that we share with all human beings of the present and the past and art, poetry and dreams are a primary necessity for human  life.

2015 Wolfgang Laib (Germany) 

Every crisis – the bigger the more – brought humanity to a different future, helped to go somewhere else and find something else beyond what we could have imagined. We find new ways to be and to live.

2016 Annette Messager (France) 

Virtually, behind the screens, each of us wonders about ‘the world after,’ but reality exceeds our imagination. Our computers, mobile phones, and Zoom app serve today as mediators, but they will never – so I hope – replace real life. Every work of art is unique and original, and is an integral part of the artist’s being. Its power lies in its ability to ask questions and awaken emotions that connect us both collectively and individually. This, it seems to me, is what we are now in need of  more than ever.

2019 Mona Hatoum (UK)

The crisis has had a tremendous impact on the way visual art is viewed. We have been catapulted into an electronic age where everything has become flat and immaterial. Looking at art exclusively via electronic media is a very inadequate way of experiencing art’s phenomenological qualities which appeal to all our senses and is especially inappropriate for appreciating sculpture or installation works which by nature need to be experienced from multiple viewpoints. My first visit to an exhibition, after months of isolation, brought back the importance of viewing art in person. Every work seemed to transport you into different worlds, enlarge your horizons and feed the imagination.

About the Praemium Imperiale: 

The Praemium Imperiale was created in 1988 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Japan Art Association and to honor the late Prince Takamatsu, who was the association’s honorary patron for almost six decades. 

The Association chooses the winners based on the recommendations of individual International Advisors in England, France, Italy, Germany, the United States, and Japan. Each advisor is guided by the recommendations of a nominating committee, comprising cultural leaders from his home country. The international advisors are leading figures with a deep interest or involvement in the arts. International advisors to the Praemium Imperiale chair nomination committees and propose candidates for the annual awards. Japan Art Association selection committees make final selections. Selections for the 32nd Praemium Imperiale awards will be presented at a ceremony in October 2021.

(Continues in Part 2)

Author: JAPAN Forward