Vija Celmins and Olafur Eliasson win £90,000 Praemium Imperiale prizes

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The Latvian-born artist Vija Celmins has been awarded the 2023 Praemium Imperiale Award for “painting”, which comes with a 15 million yen (£90,000) prize. She is among five international recipients of the award, presented by the Japan Art Association, under its honorary patron, Prince Hitachi.

The other winners are the Danish Icelandic practitioner Olafur Eliasson (sculpture), the Burkina Faso-born artist Francis Keré (architecture) and the US composer Wynton Marsalis (music) who also receive 15 million yen each. The theatre/film category recipient this year is the US experimental stage director Robert Wilson.

Vija Celmins at her studio, Long Island, New York, May 2023

©️The Japan Art Association / The Sankei Shimbun

Celmins is best known for her obsessive, minutely detailed images of ocean waves and the star-filled night sky, which she has worked on since the 1980s. After finishing art college in Indiana in the early 1960s, Celmins decided against migrating to the East Coast and instead enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles. There, she rejected the gestural painting of the Abstract Expressionists to make painstaking paintings of things in her studio. In 2018, a retrospective of her works opened at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Eliasson’s works are ubiquitous globally; earlier this year he was commissioned to create his first permanent outdoor work in the UK—a steel basin filled with sea water—on the Cumbrian coastline in north-west England. Eliasson’s project, provisionally called Your Daylight Destination, was devised in collaboration with the writer Robert Macfarlane. In March he presented his first solo show in the Gulf region (Qatar) focused on climate change.

Olafur Eliasson’s The weather project (2003), Tate Modern, London, 2003

Photo: Jens Ziehe; Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles ©️ 2003 Olafur Eliasson

All “laureates” are selected from lists submitted by “international advisers” across a number of countries, with specialist committees in Tokyo making the final selection. Current advisers include Hillary Clinton, secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Chris Patten, chancellor of the University of Oxford. Previous laureates have included David Hockney, Mona Hatoum, Rebecca Horn and Shirin Neshat.

Grants for Young Artists of five million yen (£30,000), also awarded annually by the Japan Art Association, go this year to the Harlem School of the Arts in New York and Rural Studio in Newbern, Alabama (both were selected by Clinton). The award will go towards expanding the reach of the Harlem School of the Arts through online programmes. Meanwhile, more than 1,200 students have participated in Rural Studio’s design-build programme, helping create more than 220 community buildings and homes.

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