With the kick off of the 58th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale this past Saturday, a number of awards were announced during the official awards ceremony. Out of more than 80 countries with pavilions and 79 artists participating in the main exhibition, one pavilion and one artist were selected by jury for the 2019 top prizes.
The Lithuanian pavilion was the recipient of the Golden Lion – the biennale’s version of a gold medal – for the best international pavilion while Arthur Jafa, an American artist, was awarded the Golden Lion for his participation in ‘May You Live in Interesting Times,’ the biennale’s main exhibition. The Silver Lion for a ‘promising young participant’ in the exhibition was awarded to Cyprus-born and Berlin-based artist Haris Epaminonda. Teresa Margolles, a Mexican artist living and working between Mexico City and Madrid, and Otobong Nkanga, born in Nigeria and working in Antwerp, were awarded special honourable mentions from the jury for their participation in the exhibition as well. Additionally, Belgium received honourable mention for their pavilion titled ‘Mondo Cane.’
The awardees this year were recognized for their particular attention to current issues including race in America and the effects and dangers of climate change. Lithuania’s pavilion, titled ‘Sun & Sea (Marina)’ featured Lina Lapelyte, Vaiva Grainyte, and Rugile Barzdziukaite was chosen for its ‘experimental spirit,’ and ‘unexpected treatment of national representation.’ The pavilion tackled climate change in a unique manner: an opera. The experimental opera, directed by Barzdziukaite, written by Grainyte, and composed by Lapelyte, offered a critique on leisure within our times and included a cast of volunteers.
For his part in ‘May You Live in Interesting Times,’ Jafa created a work of film called The White Album (2018), which is being shown in the Central Pavilion of the Giardini. He is known for his works that often bring together clips from news broadcasts, YouTube videos, and original footage that comment on race in America. The White Album brought together an array of things, including a sculpture he created out of tyre swings that resemble gallows, that work through notions of whiteness. The work received praise from the jury stating: ‘Just as the film critiques a moment fraught with violence, in tenderly portraying the artist’s friends and family, it also speaks to our capacity for love.’
This year’s jury consisted of: Stephanie Rosenthal (President of the Jury, Germany); Defne Ayas (Turkey/Netherlands), Cristiana Collu (Italy), Sunjung Kim (Korea), and Hamza Walker (USA). Additionally, artist Jimmie Durham was announced earlier this year as the recipient of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement this year after being recommended for it by Ralph Rugoff, the curator of ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ and chosen by the board of the Venice Biennale.