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Isa Genzken Named 2019 Nasher Prize Laureate

The German artist has redefined sculpture during her four decade career.

Last night, the Dallas art world gathered amid the Rachofsky’s private collection at The Warehouse in anticipation of the Nasher Sculpture Center’s 2019 Nasher Prize Laureate announcement. The $100,000 prize, which was created in 2015, is billed as “the most significant award in the world dedicated exclusively to contemporary sculpture.”

Yet, the award is not meant for the art world’s brightest rising stars, or for masters of the medium. As the last four years have shown, it is an award for established artists who have, in one way or another, impacted the understanding of what sculpture can be. Previously, the Nasher has recognized genre-defying, socially-conscious artists like Doris Salcedo, Pierre Huyghe, and Theaster Gates. 

While this method of selection makes the Nasher Prize an interesting commentary on how sculpture exists in the world today, it also makes the Nasher Prize Laureate a little predictable. Peter Simek wrote about this in our September issue. 

This year, the jury chose another artist who pushes the very definition of sculpture: Isa Genzken. The 2019 Nasher Prize Laureate’s work spans mediums including sculpture, painting, filmmaking, photography, drawing, and collage. Throughout the course of her four decade career, the 69-year-old German artist has been featured in the Venice Bienniale, Documenta in Germany, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, which held her first American museum survey in 2013. A New York Times review of the retrospective said that her work made “the museum feel alive and part of the art world,” yet “frequently looks nothing like art.”

Genzken has influenced a wave of contemporary artists with her jarring assemblage-type sculptures, composed of found objects and juxtaposing ideas. 

“Her work not only straddles an array of forms that complicate and enrich our understanding of sculpture, she also consistently challenges the way an artist’s career and oeuvre might look, breaking apart the notion of specialization within an individual studio practice,” Jeremy Strick, director of the Nasher Sculpture Center, said in a statement.

The jury which elected Genzken included artists Phyllida Barlow (who had a solo exhibition at the Nasher in 2015) and Huma Bhabha, as well as important curators and art historians from across the world. 

The award will be presented to Genzen at the Nasher Prize Gala in April, and the artist will participate in an international series of public programs dubbed the Nasher Prize Dialogues. Perhaps these programs – panel discussions, lectures, and symposia – can influence how the world perceives sculpture and all its potential directions. The Nasher is, after all, an authority on the subject. It might be a while, though, before we form a such an understanding of the Nasher Prize itself.