Sometimes referred to as the “Nobel Prize of the Arts,” the Praemium Imperiale is one of the world’s most important art prizes. Since its founding in 1988, it has been given out by the Japan Art Association to artists and musicians at the top of their careers in five different categories each year, with the exception of 2020. Today, the 2021 winners were announced.
This year, the award in the painting category goes to Brazilian painter Sebastião Salgado. In the sculpture and architecture categories, the US artist James Turrell and Australian architect Glenn Murcutt took home prizes.
The award in the Music category goes to the US cellist and classical music pioneer Yo-Yo Ma. This year, however, there will be no prize awarded in the Theatre/Film category, due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The Young Artist Award goes to the Advanced Training School for the Central Institute for Restoration (ICR) in Italy, which trains art restorers.
Sebastião Salgado: A master of black and white photography
Sebastião Salgados is best known for his black-and-white photographs that focus on the lives of people in the margins of society; particularly in developing countries.
His lens has captured gold miners in Brazil, scenes from the second Gulf War and moments in the lives of indigenous peoples. The photographer has worked for renowned photo agencies, including Gamma in France, as well as Magnum Photos, and his work has appeared in books and exhibitions all over the world.
The 77-year-old photographer has also won numerous accolades throughout his career, including the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.
James Turrell: Light artist extraordinaire
Light is the primary medium of the 78-year-old American artist James Turrell. His works invite viewers to contemplate the use of light and often fully immerse visitors in large-scale installations.
For Turrell, whose art is also influenced by his passion for philosophy, science and flying, light is the material that “connects our inner life with the outer world.”
He is currently working on his large-scale work “Roden Crater,” which centers on an extinct volcano in northern Arizona. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2026.
Glenn Murcutt: Pioneer of sustainable architecture
Glenn Murcutt has spent his architectural career designing sustainable buildings. Following the Aboriginal Australians and their maxim “touch the land gently,” the 85-year-old’s environmentally friendly buildings blend in with the landscape of his Australian homeland by using indigenous materials.
As a result, Murcutt’s buildings modern, while keeping in harmony with nature. He is now the first Australian to have been awarded the Praemium Imperiale.
Yo-Yo Ma: The open-minded collaborator
American cellist Yo-Yo Ma is considered one of the most exceptional musicians of our time. The 18-time Grammy-winner is known for his fondness for musical collaborations, and has played with many leading musicians.
He has also played a number of pieces by contemporary classical composers, including Esa-Pekka Salonen and John Williams. Last year, he comforted the world by releasing a music video of a solo interpretation of Dvořák’s “Goin’ Home,” which has since been viewed more than 18 million times. This year, the 65-year-old pulled a surprise move by playing “Ave Maria” in the waiting room of vaccination center in Massachusetts.
Preserving artistic heritage
This year’s Young Artist prize was awarded to The Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro (ICR), which was founded in 1939 with the aim of preserving Italy’s cultural heritage — which at the time was threatened by the outbreak of the Second World War. Two years later, the first restoration course in Europe was held at the ICR.
Each year, 25 new students are admitted to the center’s Advanced Training School, who during the five-year Master’s program, work not only at the Rome and Matera campuses in Italy, but also on projects around the globe.
Throughout its history, the institute has produced 900 specialized restorers. Some now work for high-profile institutions such as the Louvre, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.
The Praemium Imperiale is endowed with 15 million yen (€115,000). Previous winners include violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, actress Catherine Deneuve, designer Issey Miyake, director Martin Scorsese, choreographer Pina Bausch and painter Gerhard Richter.