Top Honors in the Arts, Worldwide

The Japan Art Association has announced the 2022 winners of the Praemium Imperiale. This award was established in 1988 for international recognition in the arts comparable to the Scandinavia-based Nobel Prizes in sciences and literature. Architecture is one its five categories of achievement, along with painting, sculpture, music, and theater/film.

Over the 33-year history of the program, many of the world’s most notable arts figures have been honored. In the first year of these prizes, the architect winner was the Chinese-American I.M. Pei, followed the second year by James Stirling of England, and in the third year by the first woman architect so recognized, Gae Aulenti of Italy.

Other American architects so honored have included Frank Gehry, Richard Meier, Steven Holl, Rafael Moneo, and partners Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. Japanese architect winners to date have included Kenzo Tange, Tadao Ando, Fumihiko Maki, Yoshio Taniguchi, and Toyo Ito. Over these years, the prize has gone to architects in 15 countries, some with accomplishments worldwide, some distinguished for smaller-scaled works in a narrower geographical range.

Architects Now Honored

Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishiza. All Photos courtesy of the Japan Art Association, Photo Hisao Suzuki © SANAA

Architecture honorees this year are the partners Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of the Japan-based firm SANAA. Their recognition addresses the gender imbalance that has prevailed so long in the architecture profession. Sejima is the first woman practicing design in Japan to achieve such international prominence. While some husband-wife architectural practices (e.g. Williams and Tsien) have risen to international stature around the world, the SANAA partners do not fit that model. Sejima is the elder of the two and was joined by the younger man, Nishizawa, to establish their firm.

Together, the SANAA partners have completed notable commissions in several countries:

In Japan, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa (2004) and the Shogin TACT Tsuruoka concert hall in Yamagata (2017).

Twenty-first Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan, 2004. Photo © Hisao Suzuki.
Shogin TACT Tsuruoka, Yamagata, Japan, 2017, Photo © SANAA

In the US, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York (2007) and the Grace Farms cultural complex in New Canaan, CT (2015),

New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, 2007, Photo © Iwan Baan.
Grace Farms, New Canaan, CT, 2015. Photos © Iwan Baan.

In England, a Serpentine Pavilion in London’s Kensington Gardens (2009),

Photo © Iwan Baan.

In France, the Louvre-Lens art museum in Lens (2012),

Photo © Dean Kaufman
Louvre-Lens, Lens, France, 2012. Photo © Dean Kaufman
Louvre-Lens, Lens, France, 2012, Photo: Imre Culbert, C Mosbach

In Switzerland, the Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne (2009),

Photo© SANAA
Photo © SANAA
Photo © SANAA

In Australia, an extension to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney is now under construction. and in China, design has been completed for a new Maritime Museum in Shenzen.

Winners in Other Fields

This year’s winner for music is Krystian Zimerman of Poland and Switzerland, famed for his precision and originality as a pianist. He won the Chopin International Piano Competition at the age of 18 and has gone on in the decades since to play and record with many of the world’s most prominent orchestras. His artistry is inextricably linked to his deep technical understanding of the piano, which includes assembling and tuning his own instruments.

Krystian Zimmerman
Zimerman with London Symphony Orchestra. 2020, courtesy C.Major Entertainment.

While honored in the category of painting, Giulio Paolini of Italy often mixes the media of sculpture and photography in his artworks. His works often incorporate elements from historical periods of art, sometimes to pose “riddles” based on the relationships of art from different times. He has applied similar thought-provoking visual connections to stage design for theater and opera.

Giulio Paolini. ©Giulio Paolini and courtesy Fondazione Giulio e Anna Paolini, Turin.
Paolin In his studio, (foreground) Mixed-media artwork by Giulo Paolini, Photo ©Giulio Paolini and courtesy Fondazione Giulio e Anna Paolini, Turin.

One of the world’s most prominent figures in contemporary cinema, Wim Wenders has won the Praemium Imperiale for theater/film. Born and currently living in Germany, he is best known for the made-in-US movie Paris, Texas, and the film Wings of Desire, set in Germany. He has also become recognized in recent years for documentaries, including the Oscar-nominated Buena Vista Social Club. His photographs have been exhibited worldwide, and he has founded the nonprofit Wim Wenders Foundation to make his own works accessible to the public and to award grants to young film-makers.

Wim Wenders. Courtesy of Wim Wenders Stiftung.
Still from Wings of Desire. Courtesy of Wim Wenders Stiftung.

The prize for sculpture this year goes to Ai Weiwei, one of the world’s most influential cultural figures. Weiwei’s art and advocacy addresses worldwide problems ranging from refugees crises to rainforests. But China – past, present, and future – is the focus of most of his work, a focus that has led to his imprisonment and exile from his native land. Son of a father denounced by the Chinese government, Weiwei studied for several of his early years in the US. Based in Europe since 2015, Weiwei continues objecting to oppression. His art in a variety of media expresses his viewpoints, as in photos that show him breaking Chinese pottery.

Ai Weiwei dropping a Han Dynasty urn. Photo © Ai Weiwei.

Awards process and ceremony

The Praemium Imperiale nominees are identified by selection committees led by advisors who are internationally prominent in business or government worldwide. Hillary Rodham Clinton, former US Secretary of State, has just been appointed as an advisor. Final choices are made by the sponsoring organization – not, as in the case of many such honors, by a vote among jurors.

The 2022 prizes were awarded on October 19 in Tokyo. Each honored artist received an honorarium of 15 million yen ($111,000).