Ralph Lemon Awarded Whitney Biennial’s $100,000 Bucksbaum Award

New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art has given the $100,000 Bucksbaum Award to American choreographer and visual artist Ralph Lemon, who was picked from the sixty-three artists and collectives included in the ongoing Whitney Biennial, titled “Quiet as It’s Kept,” which remains on view until October 16. 

“With the Bucksbaum Prize, the Whitney seeks to honor an artist with the promise to make a lasting contribution to the history of American art,” said Scott Rothkopf, chief curator of the Whitney. “In Ralph Lemon’s case that has already happened. His body of work has shifted paradigms around performance, sculpture, drawing, and more, as well as the distinctions among them—all with rigor, ethics, humor, and heart.” 

Throughout a more-than-four-decade career, Lemon has leapt across disciplinary boundaries in his exploration of memory, race, spirituality, language, grief, and joy, and other abstractions. A recipient of the MacArthur “genius” grant and the National Medal of Arts, among many other laurels, Lemon is currently the artistic director of Cross Performance, a company devoted to of cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary performances and presentations.

For the Whitney Biennial, Lemon enacted what the museum calls a “choreography of presentation,” showing hundreds of drawings from roughly the past twenty-five years in various configurations that unspooled across the duration of the exhibition. Lemon characterized the work as “a mapping akin to an anthropological practice,” and drew inspiration from travels to Japan, Haiti, Côte d’Ivoire and the Mississippi Delta,

The six jury members for the Bucksbaum prize included Whitney director Adam Weinberg, Rothkopf, Whitney Biennial cocurators David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards, art historian and Artforum contributing editor Huey Copeland, and curator and writer Meg Onli. The prize was initiated in 2000 by the late Melva Bucksbaum, a patron of the arts and long-time Whitney trustee. Previous prizewinners include Paul Pfeiffer, Mark Bradford, Michael Asher, Pope.L, and Tiona Nekkia McClodden, who won in 2019.

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