Dallas' Nasher Sculpture Center Creates $100k International Prize for Sculptors

On Thursday, the Nasher Sculpture Center announced the creation of the Nasher Prize, an international award of $100,000, to be given annually to a living sculptor, in honor of a specific body of work. The recipient will be determined by an international committee of art directors, curators, art historians and artists, and the first award will be given a year from now, in April 2016, which Mayor Mike Rawlings, who spoke at the event announcing the prize, declared Art Month in Dallas.

The event began with a performative sculpture -- a "hydro-acoustical movement in two parts" -- by artists Jeff Gibbons and Gregory Ruppe. After the performance and a short video, Nasher director Jeremy Strick took the podium, welcoming the crowd of art-world people and media members to the "momentous occasion," and creating still more speculation about what the announcement would be, since it had been described only as "significant" on the elegant white invitation.

Strick began by speaking to the Nasher's efforts to "champion the practice of sculpture," and in particular, "the work and practice of living artists." "Sculpture is ever expanding," he said, with a nod to Gibbons' and Ruppe's sound sculpture, going on to describe the medium as a "means of understanding history, culture and values." When he announced the Nasher Prize and the $100,000 sum -- a project which Strick said has been "years in the making" -- he was met with a chorus of oohs and ahhs.

Strick also revealed the jurors for the inaugural 2016 prize: Phyllida Barlow, an artist based in the U.K.; Lynne Cooke, senior curator of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; Okwui Enwezor, director of the Haus der Kunst in Munich; Yuko Hasegawa, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo; Steven Nash, founding director of the Nasher Sculpture Center; Alexander Potts, a U.S.-based art historian; and Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate in the U.K. The jury will deliberate at London's Tate Britain in July.

The Nobel Prize, Pritzker Architecture Prize and Turner Prize for visual art were mentioned throughout the announcement, and comparisons to such illustrious awards signal just how high the Nasher is aiming and how significant the prize could be to the Dallas art community. As Strick pointed out, few awards of authority specifically honor sculpture. The list of winners will ultimately serve as "a historical record of brilliant accomplishment," Strick said, emphasizing that the Nasher Prize will "open a dynamic conversation" and further establish Dallas as a city committed to the arts.

That last point was the key one for Mayor Mike Rawlings, who ascended the podium next. He spoke of the Nasher Prize as an essential part of his plan to bring Dallas to the international stage, where he hopes it will make the "career bucket-list of every musician, artist, playwright and actor." Prizes like Oslo's Nobel Prize and London's Turner Prize "contribute to our understanding of these places as cultural centers," Rawlings said, adding that thousands convene to bestow these awards, and the Nasher Prize will similarly bring influential members of the art world to Dallas every year.

Nancy Nasher, who is on the Sculpture Center's board of directors in addition to being the daughter of Raymond and Patsy Nasher, the founders of the museum, said the Nasher family's priority has always been to make the Sculpture Center a museum of international caliber. From the beginning, an award was acknowledged as one way to achieve this, but the idea had initially seemed "overly ambitious." The Nasher Prize announcement marked the realization of that dream. When her parents began collecting sculpture 50 years ago, it wasn't widely collected, although "today modern sculpture is established and coveted," Nasher said. "They valued it because it can be viewed from 360 degrees, creating 360 individual experiences."

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