American artist Joan Jonas (b. 1936) is announced today as the third artist to be awarded the Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon.

Generously supported by the Swarovski Foundation, the Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon honours the lifetime achievements of one of our greatest artists. The award will be presented to Joan Jonas at a special gala dinner hosted by former Whitechapel Gallery Director Iwona Blazwick OBE on 25 February 2016.

Joan Jonas lives and works between New York and Cape Breton, U.S. and emerged as a key figure in the performance art and feminist movements of the 60s. 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.

Over six prolific decades Jonas has built a reputation as one of America’s most influential multimedia artists. 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).

Jonas 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.

To celebrate the Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon 2016, guests are invited to buy tickets to a celebratory gala dinner at the newly restored Christ Church Spitalfields, located in the heart of east London, on Thursday 25 February 2016. An auction, led by Sotheby’s Alex Branczik, of works donated by leading contemporary artists including Rebecca Ackroyd, Lynda Benglis, Celia Hempton, Rachel Maclean, Samara Scott, Amalia Ulman and Bedwyr Williams will also take place. All funds raised support the Whitechapel Gallery’s Education and Community programmes, which work with thousands of children and young people each year.

Former Whitechapel Gallery Director Iwona Blazwick OBE said, ‘Joan Jonas is an icon of the American avant-garde and has been a true pioneer since her early experimentation in performance and conceptual art. She has embraced artistic exploration since the 1960s with the then brand new medium of video and she continues to use technologies to inform her work both as an artist and as professor emerita at MIT. The natural world and how we live in it, the ritual, the mythological are amongst her inspirations; the places and cultures she encounters all make their way into her effervescent performances, videos and installations. On behalf of the jury, we are honoured that Joan accepts this award in recognition of how her intimate and moving practice has had a deep resonance on successive generations of artists.

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.

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.


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