Athol Fugard Wins 2014 Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award

by Jacob Coakley

Athol Fugard in South Africa. Photo by Paula FourieSouth African playwright Athol Fugard won the Japan Art Association’s 2014 Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award. He is the first artist from the African continent to win the award. The Praemium Imperiale is an international prize for painting, sculpture, architecture, music and theatre/film, and comes with a 15 million yen (approximately $150,000). Presented annually by the Japan Art Association, it recognizes lifetime achievement in the arts in categories not covered by the Nobel Prize.

Joins American architect Steven Holl and Estonian composer Arvo Pärt

French artist Martial Raysse and Italian sculptor Giuseppe Penone also receive prestigious prize
NEW YORK, NY: JULY 16, 2014 — South African playwright Athol Fugard, whose provocative work helped bring the world’s attention to the outrage of apartheid, has won the Japan Art Association’s 2014 Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award . The first artist from the African continent to receive the prize, he joins American architect Steven Holl, whom critic Paul Goldberger has called “one of the most admired architects in the United States [and] a figure of international importance,” and Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, whose music, wrote Arthur Lubow in the New York Times, “reveals itself gradually, with a harmonic stillness that conjures up an alternative to hectic everyday existence” and who is the first Estonian to win the award.

The Praemium Imperiale, one of the most prestigious international prizes for painting, sculpture, architecture, music and theatre/film, brings with it 15 million yen (approximately $150,000). Presented annually by the Japan Art Association, it recognizes lifetime achievement in the arts in categories not covered by the Nobel Prize.

Also receiving the Praemium Imperiale are French painter Martial Raysse and Italian sculptor Giuseppe Penone. The Zinsou Foundation in Benin, West Africa, which provides free workshops, events and exhibitions of contemporary African Art, will receive the Japan Art Association’s 2014 Grant for Young Artists, which brings with it 5 million yen (approximately $50,000).

Together, the winners of this year’s awards represent six countries and three continents.

The 2014 prizes will be presented in Tokyo on October 15. In addition to the monetary gift, each laureate will receive a specially-designed gold medal and a testimonial letter from Japan’s Imperial Highness Prince Hitachi, honorary patron of the Japan Art Association.

Honoring the World’s Cultural Visionaries

The 2014 winners join a group of 129 artists comprising many of the greatest cultural visionaries of the 20th and 21st centuries. They include Ingmar Bergman, Leonard Bernstein, Peter Brook, Anthony Caro, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, Jean-Luc Godard, David Hockney, Willem de Kooning, Akira Kurosawa, Renzo Piano, Robert Rauschenberg, Mstislav Rostropovich and Ravi Shankar. A complete list of winners can be found here.

The Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award was created in 1988 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Japan Art Association and to honor the late Prince Takamatsu, who served as the association’s honorary patron for 58 years, and his commitment to the arts. Now in its 26th year, the prize remains a powerful international voice for the enduring value of the arts.

“As we enter our second quarter-century, we remain committed to trumpeting the accomplishments of the greatest artists of our time,” said Japan Art Association chairman Hisashi Hieda. “The gloriously imaginative and endlessly thought-provoking work created by these men and women is proof that we do not have to speak the same language or come from the same place to communicate with one another.”

Cultural and International Leaders Nominate Winners

The winners of the Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award are chosen by the Japan Art Association from a group of artists nominated by a panel of advisors from United States, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan. Each advisor is guided by the recommendations of a nominating committee comprising cultural leaders from his home country.

Leading the American nominating committee is William Luers, a former president of the United Nations Association of America and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a retired American ambassador and diplomat. This is Mr. Luers’ twelfth year as American Advisor since succeeding David Rockefeller, Jr., now an honorary advisor.

“More than any other arts award, the Praemium Imperiale affirms the importance and life-enhancing power of the arts,” said Mr. Luers. “This year’s laureates, like those who preceded them, represent the very best in artistic expression.”

In addition to Mr. Luers, the international advisory panel, which nominates the Praemium Imperiale candidates, includes the statesmen and business leaders Lamberto Dini, a former Italian prime minister; Christopher Patten, Chancellor of the University of Oxford and former Chairman of the BBC Trust; Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, President of Germany’s Goethe-Institut; former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin; and Yasuhiro Nakasone, a former prime minister of Japan.

Honorary advisors are Jacques Chirac, the former President of France; philanthropist David Rockefeller, the former CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank; David Rockefeller, Jr., a philanthropist and environmentalist; former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt; Richard von Weizsäcker, a former president of the Federal Republic of Germany; and François Pinault, founder of Kering, the French retail conglomerate.

Biographies of the winners follow below. For more information on the Japan Art Association and the Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award, visit


Theatre/Film:  ATHOL FUGARD, South Africa
South African playwright, actor and director Athol Fugard, the first artist from the African continent to receive the Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award, was born in 1932 to an English father and an Afrikaner mother. Driven by a deep sense of justice and a feeling that it was his moral responsibility to give voice to the disenfranchised, he became well known around the world for passionately anti-apartheid works like Blood knot (1961), The Island (1973) and Mr. Harold…and the Boys (1982). These plays and others, performed around the world, established Mr. Fugard as a major international artist. In April of this year, his latest play The Shadow of the Hummingbird premiered in America, with Mr. Fugard appearing on stage in a role for the first time in 15 years. In 2011, Mr. Fugard received a Tony Award for lifetime achievement in the theatre and in 2006, a film based on his first novel, Tsotsi (1980), won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Architecture:  STEVEN HOLL, United States
Architect Steven Holl is known for using color and light to merge an experience of space and form with the history and culture of each building site. Born in Bremerton, Washington, in 1947, he studied architecture at the University of Washington and at London’s Architectural Association School of Architecture. He also spent time in Rome, where, after seeing how the appearance of the Pantheon changed depending on the quality of the light, he developed what would become a lifelong interest in how light affects buildings. On returning to America in 1976, Mr. Holl established a New York practice to which, in 2006, he added a Beijing outpost. In 1991, he received his first international commission, a housing project called Void Space/Hinged Space Housing in Fukuoka, Japan, from Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. Other noteworthy projects include the Chapel of St. Ignatius (Seattle, 1997), the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art (Helsinki, 1998) and large-scale urban development projects in China such as Linked Hybrid (Beijing, 2009).

Music:  ARVO PÄRT, Estonia
Composer Arvo Pärt, the first Estonian to receive the Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award, is a unique voice in the world of music. His intense, passionate compositions are admired by musicians of all genres and, for the last three years, his work has been performed more than any other composer’s. Born in 1935, Mr. Pärt graduated from the Tallinn State Conservatory in 1963. Despite the repressive Soviet regime, he was able to study and experiment with what was regarded as Western avant-garde music until 1968. Then, feeling blocked, he entered a period of self-imposed exile, studying Gregorian chants, the music of the Notre Dame School, and Renaissance vocal polyphony. He emerged in 1976 with a piano work, Für Alina, his first composition using his newly created tintinnabuli technique. Essentially, a new musical language, the technique blends two musical lines, the melodic voice and the triadic voice, into an organic whole. In 2010, Mr. Pärt’s 75th birthday was celebrated throughout Estonia and the Arvo Pärt Centre was established near Tallinn, the capital, to house his hand-written scores and other important documents.

Painting:  MARTIAL RAYSSE, France
Martial Raysse is a multi-faceted, visionary artist whose ceaseless experimentation is driven by a search to portray reality as it truly is. While he has worked in all sorts of media, creating oil paintings, bronze sculptures, cubic objects, neon images and films, Mr. Raysse started out as a poet, publishing his first collection of poems in 1955. Two years later, collages he had made using a mixture of objects and poems were included in the Contemporary Artists’ Exhibition in Nice. The art world took notice and he was given a one-man show that drew praise from poet and artist Jean Cocteau. In the 1960s, Mr. Raysse’s use of mass-produced, commonplace objects made him a major figure in the French Nouveau Réalisme movement. After moving to New York, he produced his highly acclaimed Made in Japan series, which in many ways anticipated the Pop Art movement. In the 1970s, Mr. Raysse returned to France, living in the countryside with his wife, Brigitte Aubignac, also an artist. After experiencing another creative transformation, he produced work in all media inspired by rituals and mythology. Mr. Raysse’s recent work includes the large 2012 painting Ici Plage, comme ici-bas (300×900 cm). A major retrospective of his work opened at the Pompidou Centre in Paris in May. Martial Raysse was born in 1936 in Golfe-Juan, Vallauris, near Nice. 

Sculpture:  GIUSEPPE PENONE, Italy
The wide-ranging works of Italian sculptor Giuseppe Penone are unified by the natural materials he uses to express his view of reality and the relationship between nature and himself. While he is considered a leading figure of the Italian Arte Povera (poor art) movement of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, the elements most common to his work are the tree and the concept of time. Typically, Mr. Penone’s work reveals itself only gradually as he explores what happens to objects and materials over time. He will, for example, work into a tree to find growth rings through which a basic form will reveal itself. Mr. Penone’s sculptures are exhibited globally – most recently, in a one-man show at the Gagosian Gallery in London, but one of the most impressive collections of his work can be found in northern Italy. There, in the Sculpture Garden of the Palace of Venaria Reale, a World Heritage site near Turin, he has installed 14 stunning pieces. Born in 1947 in the Piemonte Region, Giuseppe Penone held his first solo exhibition after graduating from the Albertina Academy of Fine Arts in 1968.

Winner of the 2014 Grant for Young Artists

(Benin, West Africa)
Selected by International Advisor Jean-Pierre Raffarin (France)
In 2005, 21-year-old Marie-Cécile Zinsou established The Zinsou Foundation in the West African Republic of Benin to provide free access to the arts, to promote African art and culture, and to use the arts to help children advance academically. The foundation’s headquarters are based in Cotonou, the largest city in Benin, and it is there that the organization offers free workshops, exhibitions of contemporary African Art, libraries, and events for schoolchildren and adults. Last year in Ouidah, a former slave trade town, the foundation opened Benin’s first contemporary art museum in a 90-year-old mansion renovated for the purpose. Ms. Zinsou was inspired to transform the empty building into an art space after visiting Naoshima in Japan and seeing how an initiative called the Art House Project had turned empty houses into works of art.


Previous winners of the Grant for Young Artists include the Instituto Superior de Arte, Cuba; the Polish National Film, Television and Theatre School, (Lodz) Poland; the Hanoi National Conservatory of Music, Vietnam; the Ulster Youth Orchestra, Northern Ireland; The Sphinx Organization, Detroit, MI, which develops young Black and Latino classical musicians; and the Kremerata Baltica Chamber Orchestra, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. A complete list of winners can be found here.

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For more information on the Japan Art Association and the Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award, visit