2020 Nasher Prize recipent, Chicago-based artist Michael Rakowitz, is redefining contemporary sculptor and moving it from the studio to the streets. (Courtesy Nasher Sculpture Center)
Michael Rakowitz's "May the Arrogant Not Prevail," 2010, references the artist's Iraqi-Jewish heritage and the loss of Iraq's archaeological treasures to ISIS. (Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; courtesy the artist and Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago)
Michael Rakowitz stands with his work in London's Trafalgar Square, 2018, "The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist." The human-headed figure of a winged bull (lamassu) is constructed from cans of Iraqi date-syrup, a staple of the region's cuisine. (Photo Rick Findler/PA Wire, courtesy Jewish News Times of Israel)
Artifact-inspired works from Michael Rakowitz's series "The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist (Lamassu)," 2007 to ongoing, a collection of drawings, cardboard and newspaper, sculptures, museum labels, sound. (Courtesy the artist)
Michael Rakowitz's "The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist (Northwest Palace of Nimrud)," 2018, addresses cultural destruction through Pop materials. (Courtesy Whitechapel Gallery, London)
Installation view of 2020 Nasher Prize winner Michael Rakowitz's "The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist (Recovered, Missing, Stolen Series)," 2007, at Lombard-Freid Projects, New York. For the past 12 years, the Chicago-based sculptor has been creating work that questions the destruction wrought by the Iraqi war. (Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects)
Michael Rakowitz's mixed-media "Enemy Kitchen," 2003 to ongoing, highlights the culinary traditions of Iraq, from where the artist's maternal grandparents emigrated in the 1940s. (Courtesy the Smart Museum of Art, Chicago)
Michael Rakowitz pictured with his "Enemy Kitchen" on the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago plaza, 2017. The food-based project taps Iraqi refugees and immigrants as chefs, and creates a dialogue when the audience comes together over a shared meal. (© MCA Chicago; photo Nathan Keay; courtesy artnet.com)
Michael Rakowitz's "RETURN" 2006, a storefront at 529 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, alludes to the artist's grandfather's business that was left behind in his Iraqi homeland. An operable enterprise, "RETURN" was responsible for reviving the trade again for one of Iraqi's signature exports — dates. (Courtesy the artist)
Michael Rakowitz's "paraSITE Homeless Shelter," 1997 and ongoing. The sculptor was early on giving voice and forging a response for the then-invisible homeless population. (Collection Museum of Modern Art, New York; courtesy the artist)
Michael Rakowitz's "The Breakup," 2010, conflates images in a dystopian stew that speaks to an uneasy globalism. (Courtesy the artist)
Michael Rakowitz, 2020 Nasher Prize recipient, is both globally engaged and social aware, with a practice that extends far beyond the studio or the art market. (Photo by Daniel Asher Smith)
One of the art world’s heftiest — and most respected — awards will be going to an sculptor who is not a household name, but a figure who is an artist’s artist, a mid-career talent whose practice is even more relevant now than when his pioneering works first garnered attention in the late 1990s.
The artist is also known for his outspoken attitude, and being the first one to bravely say no to an invitation to participate in the 2019 Whitney Biennial due to questions about a museum trustee’s income sources.
Cue Michael Rakowitz, revealed in Dallas Wednesday as the 2020 Nasher Prize Winner. The honor comes with a $100,000 cash prize and an award designed by Pritzker Prize architect Renzo Piano, set to be conferred Saturday, April 4, 2020 in a ceremony at the Nasher Sculpture Center.
Watch the Chicago-based sculptor — whose art practice often relates to his Iraqi-Jewish heritage — discussing a body of work recently shown at Art Basel below:
Refugees to Food Trucks, Homelessness to Archaeology
The selection of Rakowitz, a Northwestern University professor of art theory and practice, as the 2020 Nasher Prize winner aligns with the museum’s mission to think globally and encourage a thoughtful dialogue in contemporary sculpture — a conversation, which is also mindful of diversity.
Previous winners hailed from Europe — Isa Genzken (2019) and Pierre Huyghe (2017) — as well as South America (Doris Salcedo in 2016). Rakowitz however more closely relates to the concept of social sculpture and activism evidenced in the selection of Theaster Gates, another Chicago artist, who won the Nasher Prize in 2018.
Rakowirz is the fifth winner in the internationally watched series. He holds a BFA from Purchase College, State University of New York, and a Master of Science in Visual Studies from MIT. Rakowitz first signaled his empathy for displaced communities and interest in literally taking the studio to the streets with an ongoing series addressing homelessness begun in 1997, which created inflatable, and heated, housing shelters for those without dwellings.
Subsequent works include Enemy Kitchen, also ongoing, pop-up Iraqi cooking workshops and food trucks that in turn are staffed by Iraqi refugees and immigrants as chefs. A third series, The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, 2007 to ongoing, utilizes Middle Eastern packaging, often for the food industry, as a poignant, Pop statement about the destruction of the great monuments of ancient Iraq such as the Assyrian city of Nineveh.
The eight-person 2020 Nasher Prize jury that anointed Rakowitz reflects a trans-continental approach, spanning Europe, Asia, Latin America and North America.
Its members encompass curatorial types and professors to a fellow artist: Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Director of Castello di Rivoli, Italy; London-based Phyllida Barlow, a sculptor who was the focus of a solo show at the Nasher in 2015; Pablo León de la Barra, Curator at Large, Latin America, Guggenheim Museum; Lynne Cooke, Senior Curator, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Briony Fer, Professor, History of Art, University College London; Yuko Hasegawa, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo; Hou Hanru, Artistic Director, MAXXI, Rome; and Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair, Arts Council England.
Nasher director Jeremy Strick issued a statement on the 2020 Nasher Prize winner:
“In Michael Rakowitz, the Nasher Prize jury has selected a laureate whose work wrestles in unique and revelatory ways with many of the complex questions of history, heritage, and identity that are so much at the forefront of contemporary culture and politics. . . Rakowitz weaves dense webs of meaning in distinct bodies of work rich with insight and surprise.”
For a peek inside this Nasher Prize winner’s sculpture practice — which embraced social sculpture and activism decades before those words peppered contemporary art lingo — scroll through the slide show above this story.
The 2020 Nasher Prize ceremony, set again to include think-tank level discourse via the Nasher Prize Dialogues, is co-chaired by Nancy Carlson and Adriana Pareles.