The Venice Biennale is awarding the coveted Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement to American-born, Berlin-based artist Jimmie Durham. Primarily known as a sculptor, creating pieces that incorporate both natural and inexpensive everyday materials, Durham has gained a new level of exposure—and scrutiny—in recent years.
Ralph Rugoff, curator of “May You Live in Interesting Times,” the Biennale’s 58th International Art Exhibition, nominated Durham for the honor. His recommendation was approved the biennale’s board of directors, which is chaired by Paolo Baratta.
Although Durham is not a recognized member of the Cherokee tribe—which has recently been a source of controversy—he self-identifies as a Cherokee, and much of his artistic practice deals with issues of colonialism and Native American identity. The artist, who also works in drawing, collage, photography, and video, often writes insightful texts to accompany his artworks that confront Eurocentrism and racial prejudice.
Rugoff praised the 78-year-old artist “for making art that is at once critical, humorous and profoundly humanistic.” Considering that Durham had his first solo show back in 1965, “we should probably be giving him two lifetime awards by this point in time,” the curator joked in a statement.
The artist—whose work consistently examines the ambiguity of identity and the way society aims to categorize individuals—is a fitting choice for a biennale that Rugoff has said is inspired by our age of equivocation.
A five-time Venice Biennale veteran, appearing in the exhibition’s 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2013 editions, Durham has also shown in the 1992 and 2012 documenta exhibitions in Kassel, Germany, and the 1993, 2003, and 2014 Whitney Biennials in New York. Previous honors bestowed on the artist include the Goslarer Kaiserring—the emperor’s ring of the German city of Goslar—in 2016, and the Robert Rauschenberg Award in 2017.
Major solo shows include outings at MAXXI Rome in 2016, the Serpentine Galleries in London in 2015, and the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1993. In 2017 and 2018, a retrospective organized by the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, “Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World,” traveled to the the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Remai Modern in Saskatoon, Canada.
“I can think of few artists who are more deserving of this incredible honor, which acknowledges Jimmie’s immense contributions to the field of contemporary art over the past 50 years,” said Hammer Museum senior curator Anne Ellegood, who organized his 2017 retrospective, in an email to artnet News. “His insatiable curiosity, keen intellect, profound commitment to human rights and cosmopolitanism in all his life choices have provided the roots and the foundation from which his work, in its numerous forms, has flourished.”
“Jimmie’s work,” she added, “represents what art does at its best: interrogate, complicate, implicate, remind, lament, satirize, and savor, giving us hope that intelligence today might outweigh the stupidity of yesterday.”
The biennale will present Durham with the award on May 11, the opening day of the exhibition, in a ceremony at Ca’ Giustinian, the organization’s headquarters.
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