El Anatsui Honored With Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at Venice Biennale

The Ghanaian artist takes the international exhibition's highest honor.

Axel Vervoordt, El Anatsui, and Boris Vervoordt Courtesy Axel Vervoordt
Axel Vervoordt, El Anatsui, and Boris Vervoordt Courtesy Axel Vervoordt.

When the 56th Venice Biennale opens in just over three week’s time, the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement will go to Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, whose shimmering, chainmail-like wall relief sculptures, crafted from old liquor bottle caps pieced together with copper wire, became an international sensation following the 2007 edition of the international art exhibition, curated by Robert Storr.

El Anatsui was chosen by the Biennale’s board of directors based on the recommendation of this year’s curator, Okwui Enwezor (see Venice Biennale Curator Okwui Enwezor on “All the World’s Futures,” Karl Marx, and the Havana Biennial Boycott).

In a statement announcing El Anatsui‘s selection, Paolo Baratta, the board’s chair, called him “perhaps the most significant living African artist working on the continent today,” noting that “the Golden Lion Award acknowledges not just his recent successes internationally, but also his artistic influence among two generations of artists working in West Africa. It is also an acknowledgment of the sustained, crucial work he has done as an artist, mentor and teacher for the past 45 years.”

Susanne Ghez, former longtime executive director and chief curator of the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, will also be recognized with the Special Golden Lion for Services to the Arts. A statement announcing the award praised Ghez as “undeniably one of the most distinguished personalities in international contemporary art.” She is currently an adjunct curator at the Art Institute of Chicago. (See Plastics Mogul Stefan Edlis Donates $500 Million to Art Institute of Chicago.)

El Anatsui, <em>In the World, But don't know the World?</em> (2009), private collection. Photo: Jonathan Greet, courtesy October Gallery, London.

El Anatsui, In the World, But don’t know the World? (2009), private collection.
Photo: Jonathan Greet, courtesy October Gallery, London.

Additional Golden Lion awards based on the work in the international exhibition, “All the World’s Futures,” curated by Enwezor (see The 2015 Venice Biennale List of Artists Is Out—See Our Exclusive), will be selected by a jury comprising Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago curator Naomi Beckwith, Museum der Moderne Salzburg director Sabine Breitwieser, 21er Haus Vienna chief curator Mario Codognato, writer and curator Ranjit Hoskote, and former Gwangju Biennale Foundation director Yongwoo Lee.

El Anatsui is represented by London’s October Gallery and New York’s Jack Shainman Gallery, which hosted a solo show of his work late this past year (see El Anatsui’s Exciting New Work Is Even More Majestic Than Ever), and is opening another El Anatsui survey at its year-old the School location in Kinderhook, New York (see Jack Shainman Sets May Opening for Massive Outpost in Upstate New York), on May 17.

A retrospective on the artist, “Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui,” appeared at the Brooklyn Museum in 2013. In 2014 El Anatsui became the first honorary academician at London’s Royal Academy from Africa (see El Anatsui, First African Artist Appointed at London’s Royal Academy).

The Golden Lion Award will be presented at a ceremony on May 9, 2015, the opening day of the 56th Venice Biennale. 


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