Anne Imhof and Huey Copeland toasted at the 2017 Absolut Art Awards

Stage for the Absolut Art Awards, blue and orange spotlights shone on the artwork, ceiling lights on metal frame, dark steps surrounding a pool of water reflecting the stage
Swedish music collective Studio Barnhus set the stage for the Absolut Art Awards celebration in Stockholm recently, conjuring a woodland theme for the latest entry in the Absolut Art Bars series
(Image credit: TBC)

Established in 2009, the Absolut Art Award is one of the largest art prizes in Europe. The 2017 winners were recently celebrated in Stockholm with a gala dinner and an art bar designed by Swedish DJ duo Studio Barnhus. Rather than present an award for an existing achievement, the money is given to two established creatives to produce two entirely new works. ‘Usually you get a prize for something you have already done,’ quipped Daniel Birnbaum, director of Moderna Museet, and Jury President for the 2017 awards. Other jurors included Swiss Institute director Simon Castets, Kunsthalle Basel chief curator Elena Filipovic, Chisenhale Gallery director Polly State, and Artforum editor-at-large, Jack Bankowsky.

Anne Imhof was chosen for the Art Work Award for 2017. The Frankfurt-based artist’s five-hour choreographed performance Faust (below) – presented at the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale this year – sent the art world into a frenzy. The work, which featured a cast of young, androgynous, head-banging performers, and Doberman Pincher dogs, won the Golden Lion Award for Best National Participation. Imhof’s notable earlier works includes an opera, Angst (2015).

‘We’re committed to working with artists who push boundaries,’ said Absolut global art manager Saskia Neuman. Discussions over dinner centred on whether success and money would change the characteristic feel of Imhof’s raw, edgy works, for which she often collaborates with recent art school graduates, dancers, musicians and actors. Imhof will use her €100,000 prize winnings to go to the salt flats in Death Valley to produce a new performance-based work, that will be made into a film – a new medium for the artist. ‘I will see what it does with time and what a background it will be for this work.’ 

There are very few awards in the field of art criticism and art history, and the Absolut Art Writing Award, initiated in 2012, is a substantial €20,000 cash prize, with €25,000 to complete a publishing project. The jurors selected Huey Copeland – a contributing editor at Artforum, and associate professor of art history at Northwestern University – for this year’s art writing prize. ‘It’s not easy to make a living as an art writer — I know this because I’ve tried and failed,’ Birnbaum said. 

Copeland, who described his work as being dedicated to ‘understanding differences in all of its forms’, said he was thrilled to be part of an award that ‘acknowledges how much art writing matters, not only to the understanding of arts in the present, but to the shape of art histories to come’. The prize money will allow Copeland to finish his collection of essays, Touched by the Mother — a tribute in part to the many women who have inspired him, mentioning his seventh-grade art teacher, as well as The Studio Museum director Thelma Golden, author and former Artforum editor-in-chief Michelle Kuo, and professor Darcy Grimaldi Grigsby, among others. ‘But of course it all comes back to Mary Copeland – who literally made everything possible,’ Copeland said.


For more information, visit the Absolut website

Charlotte Jansen is a journalist and the author of two books on photography, Girl on Girl (2017) and Photography Now (2021). She is commissioning editor at Elephant magazine and has written on contemporary art and culture for The Guardian, the Financial Times, ELLE, the British Journal of Photography, Frieze and Artsy. Jansen is also presenter of Dior Talks podcast series, The Female Gaze.