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The 2017 Nasher Prize Winner Is French Artist Pierre Huyghe: UPDATED

by Jerome Weeks 26 Sep 2016 9:01 PM


This year’s winner of the $100,000 Nasher Sculpture Prize is a boundary-breaking artist. Pierre Huyghe’s artworks can be mysterious, goofy and beautiful. He’s planted trees inside the Sydney Opera House and sank a sculpture in the Mediterranean so only divers can see it. KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports last night’s announcement of the French artist as the Nasher winner helps define the prize – by not limiting sculpture.


The Rachofsky Warehouse is a private exhibition space a few blocks from the Galleria. It’s where some of the vast art collection of Cindy and Howard Rachofsky is kept. It’s also where last night’s announcement of the Nasher Prize was held. Unbeknownst to the well-heeled people waiting to hear who the winner was, they’d walked past one of Pierre Huyghe’s artworks near the warehouse entrance.

It’s a big chunk of darkened concrete. Huyghe cast it from a broken, old stone monument outside Paris – it’s just a headless, naked figure sprawled on the ground.

“But then,” says Jeremy Strick, director of the Nasher Sculpture Center, “he inserted electrical coils, which heat up, so if you put your hand on the figure it may be warm, like a person. It’s really uncanny.  And there’s water, and moss grows from it. So it’s very much this living system.”


‘La deraison’ by Pierre Huyghe. Photo: Jerome Weeks

Strick says this is typical of Huyghe’s complex artistry. In a single work, he evokes the grand history of statues, but also, ultimately, their fallen state. He includes electricity yet allows nature to take its course, letting moss grow in the cracks and crevices.

Yet this work – titled “La deraison” – or ‘Unreason’ – is almost conventional by the French artist’s normally unorthodox standards.

“Huyge, who certainly makes objects that anyone would call sculpture,” says Strick, “also makes films, videos, computer animations, a range of things that often can address very serious themes but also can have a humorous quality that’s really delightful.”

The 54-year-old artist has created a small-town parade in a community along the Hudson River. He’s built aquariums, ice storms and a puppet theater. He postulated an expedition to the Antarctic — ending with a skating rink of black ice. Huyghe lives and works in Chile. And although he has artworks in the permanent collections of the Guggenheim and the Modern Art Museum in New York, he’s probably better known in Europe than in America.


‘Black Ice’ by Pierre Huyghe.

Catherine Craft, associate curator at the Nasher, cites one of Huyghe’s most famous works called ‘Untilled.’ It was set up in a park in Germany. At its center is another classic reclining nude statue – only this one has a living beehive for a head.

“It’s this incredibly arresting image,” Craft says, “so you can talk about it in terms of having ecological effects but at a certain level, it’s just dreamlike.”

Simply put, Huyghe is a wildly inventive conceptual artist more than your typical stone carver. Huyghe actually makes the first Nasher winner – Colombian artist Doris Salcedo – seem almost conservative. Yet her artworks included clothing, rose petals and giant cracks in floors. Last year’s choice of Salcedo indicated the Nasher was going to be an international prize, picked by a nine-member jury of some of the most influential curators and museum directors around. And the prize would not necessarily be tied to traditional forms, objects or materials.


‘Untilled’ by Pierre Huyghe

“Huyghe sets an example of the jury’s thinking,” Strick says. “They want to use the prize as a way of testing or expanding our notions of sculpture. I think in the first year, the jury really set a position for the prize. The second year, they begin to determine its direction.”

A central illusion of the sculptor’s art has been making bronze or marble look like human flesh. And therein lies another illusion: Flesh will die, but the statue will last. But of course bronze and marble crumble, too. In this light, Huyghe is almost the anti-sculptor. He doesn’t aim to create objects that even give the illusion of lasting. He’s made a boat of ice, has moss growing on one statue, a beehive on another.

Everything grows or decays.

Grows and decays.

There’s more on Huyghe and all the Nasher Laureates, in the Nasher Prize section of our site.

The full release:
Nasher Sculpture Center Announces Pierre Huyghe as Winner of the 2017 Nasher Prize
French Artist Receives $100,000 in Recognition of Outstanding Contributions to Sculpture

Dallas, TX (September 26, 2016) – The Nasher Sculpture Center announces French artist Pierre Huyghe as the recipient of the 2017 Nasher Prize. In its second year, the Nasher Prize is the most ambitious international award in sculpture, established to honor a living artist who elevates the understanding of sculpture and its possibilities. Pierre Huyghe has profoundly expanded the parameters of sculpture through artworks encompassing a variety of materials and disciplines,
bringing music, cinema, dance, and theater into contact with biology and philosophy,incorporating time based elements that vary in intensity, as diverse as fog, ice, parades, rituals, automata, computer programs, video games, dogs, bees, and microorganisms. Huyghe has consistently sought new ways to bring together unconventional and heterogeneous materials into a practice exceeding the sum of its multifarious parts.

Pierre Huyghe was selected for his extraordinary work by an international jury of museum directors, curators, artists, and art historians who demonstrate an unparalleled expertise in the field of sculpture. Huyghe will be presented with an award designed by Renzo Piano, architect of the Nasher Sculpture Center, at a ceremony in Dallas on April 1, 2017.

“I’m looking at the co-evolution of interdependent agents, biotic and abiotic, real or symbolic—different states of living, self-organizing in a dynamic and unstable situation: mesh, porous,contingent. It could be immaterial things such as time, light, temperature, air, scents, but interconnected within a network of material systems in order to generate a particular and sensible experience,” says Pierre Huyghe. “This individual and inter-subjective experience within an
environment is important in what I do. It speaks to the history of the things perceived as a link to a context and a time—to objects as transitory, as sentient, but also to considering objects as ecosystems—actual, virtual, indifferent—that you navigate and influence, as in a garden for example.”

The exhibitions or works Huyghe creates act as uncompleted, evolving worlds that people wander through, encountering living entities and environments that can range from intellectually provocative to hauntingly beautiful. As such, Huyghe’s achievements have deeply affected our understanding of sculpture’s possibilities, delving into urgent issues raised by technology and media—identity, community, ecology, knowledge—as well as enduring questions regarding time, the exhibition ritual, the role of the artist and the connections to each other.

“We are so delighted by the choice of Pierre Huyghe as our 2017 Nasher Prize laureate,” says Director Jeremy Strick. “His expansive view of sculpture so wonderfully embodies the goal of the Nasher Prize, which it to champion the greatest artistic minds of our time. His incorporation of living systems, films, situations, and objects into his sculpture highlight the complexities between art and life and challenge the very limits of art-making. And at this moment, when the environment and culture are so under threat, Huyghe’s imaginative, uncanny approach to the serious ecological and social issues facing our planet tie his oeuvre to the ancient purposes of sculpture: they possess a shamanistic quality which tips the mimetic into life.”

The 2017 Nasher Prize jurors are: Phyllida Barlow, artist; Lynne Cooke, Senior Curator, National Gallery of Art; Okwui Enwezor, Director, Haus der Kunst; Yuko Hasegawa, Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (MOT); Steven A. Nash, founding Director of the Nasher Sculpture Center and Director Emeritus of the Palm Springs Art Museum; Alexander Potts, art historian; and Sir Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate. This year, the jury also welcomed two new members, artist Huma Bhabha and Pablo León de la Barra, UBS MAP Curator, Guggenheim.

“It was very important for those of us on the jury to continue to expand the purview of the Nasher Prize in its second year with the choice of an artist whose practice is dynamic, challenging, edifying, and in the case of Pierre Huyghe, very enigmatic,” says juror Okwui Enwezor. “Huyghe’s work extends far beyond any tidy definition of sculpture in ways that continue to grow and develop well into his career, allowing for ever-new discoveries and artistic possibilities. In
that, we found him exceedingly deserving of this significant award.”

In conjunction with the Nasher Prize, the Nasher Sculpture Center annually presents a series of public programs exploring the climate of contemporary sculpture. This year, the Nasher Prize Dialogues will occur in Berlin, Mexico City, and Dallas, Texas. Interdisciplinary luminaries such as artist Bettina Pousttchi, writer Jörg Heiser, and curator Kasper König will summit to discuss the most compelling topics regarding contemporary sculpture. By galvanizing international discourse, Nasher Prize Dialogues are an apt extension of the Nasher Prize’s mission to advocate for and advance a vital contemporary art form.

The Nasher Prize is generously co-chaired by Deedie Rose and Sharon Young. They have helped garner support for the prize and its attendant programs, including the Nasher Prize Dialogues. The first dialogue, a panel discussion called The Work of Sculpture in the Age of Digital Production, took place in Berlin on September 14, 2016 at the Akademie der Künste. Thesecond Nasher Prize Dialogues program will take in Mexico City on March 18, 2017 at Museo Jumex and will be moderated by Nasher Prize Juror, Pablo Leon de la Barra.

The Nasher Prize presenting sponsor is JPMorgan Chase & Co. Founding Partners of the Nasher Prize are The Eugene McDermott Foundation and Nancy A. Nasher and David J.Haemisegger.

About Pierre Huyghe
Huyghe was born in 1962 in Paris, he lives and works in Chile and New York. He studied at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. In 2013, his retrospective opened at Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, then traveled to Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2014) and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2014-2015). He has had numerous international solo exhibitions at such venues as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2015); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (2010), Tate Modern, London (2006); Dia Center for the Arts, New York (2003); French Pavilion, Venice Biennale (2001); Kunstverein München, Munich (1999); and Secession, Vienna (1999). Huyghe has also participated in a number of group exhibitions such as the 14th Istanbul Biennial (2015); Documenta 13 and 11, Kassel (2012 and 2002); 6th Sydney Biennale (2008); theanyspacewhatever, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2008); Whitney Biennial (2006); and Traffic, CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux (1996), curated by Nicolas Bourriaud. He is also a participant in the 32nd Bienal de São Paul (2016). Huyghe has been the recipient of many awards and honors, including the Kurt Schwitters Prize, Hannover (2015); Roswitha Haftmann Prize, Zürich (2013); Contemporary Artist Award; Smithsonian Museum’s Contemporary Artist Award, Washington (2010); Hugo Boss Prize, New York (2002); Special Jury Prize, 49th Venice Biennale (2001); and DAAD Berlin Artists-in-Residence, Berlin (1999-2000). Huyghe’s work is in the collection of many museums such as Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Tate, London; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; and several Foundations like Fondation Louis Vuitton, Fondation Pinault and LUMA Foundation.