Interdisciplinary Artist Ralph Lemon Wins Bucksbaum Award

Janice K. Johnson

Ralph Lemon Wins Bucksbaum Award with his work on choreography of presentation.

The legendary Choreographer, writer, and visual artist Ralph Lemon wins the Whitney Biennial’s Bucksbaum Award. The award comes with a $100,000 Check.

BY KAZEEM ADELEKE

NEW YORK, NY-Legendary choreographer, writer, and visual artist Ralph Lemon is the recipient of the 2022 Bucksbaum Award. The announcement was made recently by the Whitney Museum of American Art. Lemon was chosen from the sixty-three intergenerational artists and collectives working across disciplines and media that were part of the Whitney Biennial 2022: Quiet as It’s Kept. As the winner of this year’s award, Lemon will get a check for $100,000.

A versatile and interdisciplinary artist, Ralph Lemon works primarily in performance. However, he is also famous for his drawings, which have been a major part of his artistic expression for years. Lemon’s art-making process is private but has vast implications. He describes the purpose of his work as “a mapping akin to an anthropological practice.” Lemon’s creative process involves research and art making akin to artistic practices in places like Japan, Haiti, Côte d’Ivoire, and, for many years, the Mississippi Delta.

His work for the Biennial brings into focus his creative process and journey for more than three decades. Using choreography of presentation, he exhibited hundreds of drawings spanning over twenty-five years. His presentation went through various changes and unfolded monthly over the course of the exhibition. The techniques of the work in his exhibition were as vast as the themes that ranged from elaborate visual meditations to the nature of the artistic process. Many also emphasize Black American culture, symbols, disadvantages, music, and joy.

Bucksbaum Award Jury

Ralph Lemon was selected by a six-member Bucksbaum jury. They include Weinberg, Rothkopf, the Whitney Biennial 2022 co-curators David Breslin, DeMartini Family Curator and Director of Curatorial Initiatives at the Whitney and Adrienne Edwards, Engell Speyer Family Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Whitney. Others are Huey Copeland, BFC Presidential Associate Professor, University of Pennsylvania, and Meg Onli, Curator and Writer.

One of the jurors, Adam D. Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney, was full of praise for the artist. “Ralph Lemon’s talent and range over a career dedicated to performance, drawing, educating, and the pursuit of an imaginative creative process make him one of the most compelling American artists working today,” he said.

He added:

“I am thrilled that he is receiving the Bucksbaum Award, which was initiated by our long-time trustee Melva Bucksbaum, and celebrates the excellence of living artists.”

History of the Bucksbaum Award

The Bucksbaum Award started in 2000. It was the idea of Melva Bucksbaum (1933–2015), a patron of the arts, and collector. She was a Whitney trustee from 1996 until her death. The Bucksbaum Award goes out each Biennial year in recognition of an artist whose work demonstrates a singular combination of talent and imagination. In selecting a winner, a jury evaluates the potential of the artist to make a lasting impact on the history of American art and the excellence of their past work. The jury also evaluates works by the artists in the Biennial for excellence. The Bucksbaum Award is accompanied by a check for $100,000. McClodden is the tenth Bucksbaum laureate since the introduction of the award in 2000.

Scott Rothkopf, the Nancy and Steve Crown Family Chief Curator of the Whitney celebrates Ralph Lemon’s win. “With the Bucksbaum Prize, the Whitney seeks to honor an artist with the promise to make a lasting contribution to the history of American art. In Ralph Lemon’s case, that has already happened.”

He added:

“His body of work has shifted paradigms around performance, sculpture, drawing, and more, as well as the distinctions among them—all with rigor, ethics, humor, and heart.”

Past winners of the Bucksbaum awards are Paul Pfeiffer (2000), Irit Batsry (2002), Raymond Pettibon (2004), Mark Bradford (2006), Omer Fast (2008), and Michael Asher (2010). Others are Sarah Michelson (2012), Zoe Leonard (2014), Pope. L (2017), and Tiona Nekkia McClodden (2019).

His body of work has shifted paradigms around performance, sculpture, drawing, and more, as well as the distinctions among them—all with rigor, ethics, humor, and heart.

In addition to the cash prize, Lemon will also participate in a special project at the Museum. This will happen in the coming months.

Funding for the Bucksbaum Award is provided by an endowment from the Martin Bucksbaum Family Foundation.

What do you think about interdisciplinary artist Ralph Lemon winning Whitney Biennial’s Bucksbaum Award? Share your thoughts. Leave a comment.

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