On 25 February 2016 American artist Joan Jonas received the third Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon award at a gala dinner supported by the Swarovski Foundation at Christ Church Spitalfields, east London.

Iwona Blazwick OBE, former Director of the Whitechapel Gallery welcomed the 110 guests and said: ‘Jonas is a pioneer of early video art, performance and installation. At the same time the themes that continue to shape her work – myth as a conduit to the subjective and social unconscious, the holistic yet destructive relations of humans with other species, the beauty yet fragility of the natural environment – make her work of vital relevance to the 21st century. The Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon – our art Oscar – supported by the Swarovski Foundation celebrates the lifetime achievement of an important artist.  This annual gala also enables us to raise the funds to nurture the next generation of artists and to connect children and young people from every social background with the arts.‘ British performance artist Rose English then presented Jonas with the award which has been specially made by Swarovski and designed in collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery.

Nadja Swarovski, Chairperson of the Swarovski Foundation commented: ‘The Swarovski Foundation has a deep commitment to the empowerment and wellbeing of women and young people, and it is our pleasure to support the Art Icon Award and the Whitechapel Gallery’s youth education program for a second consecutive year. Joan Jonas is one of the most eminent visual and performance artists of our time, and an artist who has worked with such energy both as a practitioner and as a teacher. We are delighted to celebrate our first female Art Icon and to honor Joan’s contribution to the art world at this event.

Joan Jonas said: ‘I am honored to receive this recognition from Whitechapel gallery which has been for many years an important and inspiring place for art. My particular relation to Whitechapel began in 1979 when I performed Juniper Tree. It was one of my most memorable performances because of the architectural beauty of the space. I am also honored to be recognized in the city of London which has such a long and incredibly great tradition of performance.

Guests included artists Rebecca Ackroyd, Celia Hempton and Amalia Ulman alongside Joan Jonas’s friends and supporters including Samantha Conti (Women’s Wear Daily), Richard Cook (Editorial Director, Wallpaper Magazine), Mark Francis (Gallerist), Candida Gertler (Founder, Outset Contemporary Art Fund) Maureen Paley (Gallerist), Alex Sainsbury (Gallerist, Raven Row and Chair of the Board of Trustees, Whitechapel Gallery), Lydia Slater (Deputy Editor, Harper’s Bazaar), Deyan Sudjic (Director, Design Museum) and Amanda Wilkinson (Gallerist).

Guests bought tickets for the evening to help raise £145,000 for the Whitechapel Gallery’s Education and Community programmes. An auction led by Alex Branczik of Sotheby’s and introduced by Alex Sainsbury, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Whitechapel Gallery, featured work donated by leading artists including an abstract watercolour by American sculptor Lynda Benglis; a print from Amalia Ulman’s Instagram project titled Excellences & Perfections (Instagram Update, 6th June 2014), (2016) and a multi-coloured print by American and British installation artist Susan Hiller. Artists who also donated a work included: Rebecca Ackroyd, Celia Hempton, Rachel Maclean, Thomas Ruff, Samara Scott and Bedwyr Williams.

The evening glowed with Swarovski lanterns, while guests enjoyed a specially devised menu of scorched mackerel with fennel ceviche, cucumber & yogurt rolls and sauce vierge; roast breast and confit leg of duck, fermented red cabbage, caramelised shallot, semi dried tomato, pancetta crisp, girolle puree and game jus followed by chocolate tart, white chocolate sorbet, pineapple for desert.

The event celebrated every decade of Jonas’s prolific career from the 1960s to the present day. Film works and drawings from performances and installations Mirror Performance (1969), Volcano Saga (1985), Reading Dante (2007), The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things (2004-6) were shown in the space alongside a publication specially produced with the artist for the occasion.

The Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon award was given to Joan Jonas for her presence as a central figure in contemporary art for over half a century. Jonas emerged as a key figure in the performance art and feminist movements of the 60s and the year 1979 saw Jonas’ UK debut at the Whitechapel Gallery. She presented video works and series of live performances titled The Juniper Tree, which incorporated movement, sound, film, mirrors and props in a reinterpretation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same name.  Trained in art history and sculpture, her body of work is distinctive in its layering of sound, images and ideas in sophisticated and ethereal multimedia collages, encompassing video, drawing, installation, sound, performance and text.  She draws regularly from literary influences – from Dante’s epic Divine Comedy  to the Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness’ writings on the spiritual aspects of nature, which served as an important reference point for They Come to Us without a Word (2015)her recent critically-acclaimed work for the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (9 May – 22 November 2015).

The artist was chosen as the third Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon by a panel of art experts chaired by Iwona Blazwick, including Stephen Deuchar, Director, The Art Fund; Ann Gallagher, Director of Collections (British Art), Tate; and Jackie Wullschlager, Chief Art Critic, The Financial Times. The initiative is generously supported by the Swarovski Foundation, whose commitment to the arts and to nurturing creative talent in art and design has a long established heritage.


Notes for Editors

Joan Jonas (b.1936 in New York City, U.S.) studied at Mount Holyoke College, Mount Holyoke, Massachusetts (1958); the School of the Museum of Fine Arts School, Boston, Massachusetts (1961) and Columbia University (1965). In 2015 she was the S. representative at the 56th Venice Biennale and was presented in solo exhibitions at Malmö Konsthall, Malmö, Sweden; MIT List Visual Arts Centre, Boston, U.S.; and Galerie Reinhard Hauff, Stuttgart, Germany. Further recent exhibitions include Light Time Tales, curated by Andrea Lissoni, HangarBicocca, Milan (2014); Masks, Dolls and Baskets, Proyecto Paralelo, Mexico (2013); and Reanimation, WAKO Works of Art, Tokyo (2013).

Whitechapel Gallery – For over a century the Whitechapel Gallery has premiered world-class artists from modern masters such asPablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Frida Kahlo to contemporaries such as Sophie Calle, Lucian Freud, Gilbert & George and Mark Wallinger. With beautiful galleries, exhibitions, artist commissions, collection displays, historic archives, education resources, inspiring art courses, café/bar and bookshop, the Gallery is open all year round, so there is always something free to see. The Gallery is a touchstone for contemporary art internationally, plays a central role in London’s cultural landscape and is pivotal to the continued growth of the world’s most vibrant contemporary art quarter. The Gallery believes that art has the power to transform the lives of children and young people, and pioneered gallery education and community outreach. Working with thousands of children and young people annually, leading artists collaborate with those who have the greatest need for opportunity, and their art is celebrated through exhibitions in galleries 5&6, which are dedicated to education projects. whitechapelgallery.org/learn

Past winners of the Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon are: Sir Howard Hodgkin (2014) and Richard Long (2015).

The Swarovski Foundation was incorporated in 2013 to pursue charitable goals to honour the philanthropic spirit of Daniel Swarovski, who founded the crystal business in 1895. Since then, five generations of the Swarovski family have reinforced the company’s commitment to philanthropy and charitable giving. The Foundation’s mission is to build on this heritage by supporting charitable initiatives and organizations working in three areas. Fostering Creativity and Culture by promoting the arts, advancing education, supporting cultural institutions and innovative projects with cutting edge talent; Promoting Wellbeing, supporting initiatives on women’s empowerment, access to health and education and assisting the advancement and development of young people and communities; and Conserving Natural Resources through water sustainability and environmental projects to promote the conservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment.

In addition to the Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon event, the Foundation generously supports the Swarovski Foundation Curator: Youth & Community Programmes post at the Whitechapel Gallery. Open to people aged 15 – 21 the youth programme gives young adults the chance to explore contemporary art, meet creative professionals, and open up career paths into the sector. The programme is formed around collaborative artist-led projects, events and a dedicated peer-led youth forum. swarovskifoundation.org

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