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Germano Celant and Okwui Enwezor Among Recipients of Venice Biennale’s Posthumous Golden Lion Awards

The Biennale’s highest prize traditionally recognizes artists participating in the show; this year, on the occasion of the its 125th anniversary, it will honor the memory of four recently deceased artistic directors.

The Central Pavilion of the Venice Biennale (photo by Jacopo Salvi, all images courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia)

In move without precedent in its 125-year history, the Venice Biennale has awarded its highest prize, the Golden Lion, to the memory of four artistic directors and curators of the visual art show between 1974 and 2015: Maurizio Calvesi, Germano Celant, Okwui Enwezor, and Vittorio Gregotti.

The Golden Lion is traditionally given to artists, architects, and performers participating in the Biennale in recognition of the work they presented in the show; recent recipients include artists Arthur Jafa and Anne Imhof. This year, on the occasion of the Biennale’s 125th anniversary, the prize was instead bestowed posthumously on a group of former biennial curators “who were able to shape history in real time,” in the words of Cecilia Alemani, artistic director of the 59th edition.

Le muse inquiete (The Disquieted Muses), a show based on the archives of the Biennale and the first exhibition curated by all its artistic directors, will open this Saturday at the Central Pavilion Giardini. The Special Golden Lions, as the 2020 awards are known, will be awarded in a ceremony at the Giardini a few days after the opening.

Okwui Enwezor, curator of the 56th Venice Art Biennale, is one of the recipients of a Special Golden Lion this year.

“In the context of the exhibition Le muse inquiete (The Disquieted Muses), these awards are a way of recognizing some of the protagonists who have shaped the history of the Biennale itself, and who are admired and recognized worldwide and whose memory we want to preserve,” said Alemani in a statement.

“In this time of emergency and transformation, we want to salute these incredible curators, architects and art historians who taught us to interpret culture and history in all their manifestations,” she added.

The four former directions selected for the posthumous award have all died in the last year and a half. Two of them, Gregotti and Celant, both succumbed to the novel coronavirus earlier this year. The Nigerian curator Enwezor, who curated the 2015 biennale, died in 2019 after a battle with cancer, and Calvesi passed away last month.

The 59th edition of the visual art biennial was originally slated for 2021, but was postponed to 2022 after the Biennale’s architecture show, planned for this year, was also rescheduled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The international art show’s next iteration will now run from April 23 to November 27, 2022.

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