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Cecilia Vicuña in 2014. Photo: Vicuña/Wikipedia Commons.
Cecilia Vicuña in 2014. Photo: Vicuña/Wikipedia Commons.

Katharina Fritsch and Cecilia Vicuña Awarded Venice Biennale’s Golden Lions

German sculptor Katharina Fritsch and Chilean activist, poet, and multivalent artist Cecilia Vicuña have won the Fifty-Ninth Venice Biennale’s Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement. The prestigious award is given to mid- or late-career artists in recognition of their efforts and contributions to the art-historical canon. This is the first year since 2013 that two artists have received the prize; that both are female reflects this year’s focus of the Biennale, which is on the work of women and gender-nonconforming artists.

Fritsch, who divides her time between Düsseldorf and Wuppertal, is known for her large-scale, brightly hued sculptures of humans, animals, and objects that disorient and surprise. One of the most prominent of these is Hahn/Cock, 2013, a fourteen-foot-tall cobalt-blue rooster originally created for the Fourth Plinth commission in London’s Trafalgar Square and now in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC . “Fritsch’s contribution to the field of contemporary art, especially sculpture, has been incomparable.” said Biennale curator Cecilia Alemani in a statement, noting that for her, the artist’s works inspired a “sense of awe and dizzying attraction.” “It feels like one is looking at monuments from an alien civilization, or artefacts on display in a strange posthuman museum.”

Born and raised in Santiago, Vicuña was exiled in the early 1970s following the violent military coup against President Salvador Allende. Now living in New York Vicuña is known for works with roots in poetry and informed by the Indigenous culture of her native Chile. Her practice encompasses quipus, strands of knotted fibers that reference the ancient Andean communication system; “precarios,” objects made from discarded materials and exuding a sense of impermanence; film; collective performance, and installations. “Vicuña has travelled her own path, doggedly, humbly, and meticulously, anticipating many recent ecological and feminist debates and envisioning new personal and collective mythologies,” said Alemani.

Both Fritsch and Vicuña are participating in the Biennale’s main exhibition, titled “The Milk of Dreams.” The Biennale opens April 23 and runs through November 27.