Arts / Museums

New Nasher Prize Winner is an Outspoken Artist’s Artist and Pioneering Sculptor

Everything You Need to Know About Michael Rakowitz

BY // 09.04.19

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.

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