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Jimmie Durham. Photo: William Nicholson.

Jimmie Durham Awarded Venice Biennale Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement

Jimmie Durham will be awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Fifty-Eighth Venice Biennale, “May You Live in Interesting Times,” which opens May 11. The decision was made by the Biennale’s board of directors, chaired by Paolo Baratta, upon the recommendation of Ralph Rugoff, the curator of this year’s exhibition.

“Artist, performer, essayist and poet, Durham had his first solo exhibition in 1965 (we should probably be giving him two lifetime awards by this point in time),” said Rugoff in a statement. “Durham has continued to find new, ingenious and cogent ways to address the political and social forces that have shaped the world we live in. At the same time his contributions to the field of art have been outstanding for their formal and conceptual originality, their agile blending of dissonant parts and alternative perspectives, and their irrepressible playfulness. His work moves and delights us in ways that can never be anticipated.”

Born in 1940 in Houston, Texas, Durham has been working for more than five decades. He has taken part in international exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale (1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2013), Documenta (1992, 2012), and the Whitney Biennial (1993, 2003, 2014). Solo exhibitions of his work have been staged at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2017–18); Serpentine Gallery, London (2015); the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.) (2015); and Portikus, Frankfurt (2010). Retrospectives of his work have taken place at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp (2012); the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2009); and the Gemeentemuseum, the Hague (2003). 

Durham has authored a number of publications, including two essay collections, A Certain Lack of Coherence (1993) and Waiting To Be Interrupted (2014), and two books of poems, Columbus Day (1985) and Poems That Do Not Go Together (2012).

In the January 2009 issue of Artforum, Anne Ellegood wrote of Durham: “He asks us to consider the history of oppression, the futility of violence, and the powerlessness of our positions in the world, but allows us to contemplate these dour realities while keeping smiles on our faces. And because of this, his work is inherently hopeful. Life’s a bitch, he seems to say, but nonetheless, life is good. Durham’s work suggests that if small gestures of critical inquiry do not engender immediate or monumental change, they can help open our eyes to aspects of life that are normally masked by the hegemony of mainstream culture.”  

Durham will receive the honor during the awards ceremony and inauguration of the exhibition on Saturday, May 11 at Ca’ Giustinian, the Biennale’s headquarters. 

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