Since 1953, the Kulturkreis der deutschen Wirtschaft im BDI e. V. awards the prestigious ars viva prize for visual arts annually to outstanding artists being under the age of 35 living in Germany. The jury focuses on works that display an independent formal language and an awareness of contemporary issues in relation to (cultural) history. In addition to prize money of €5.000, the award includes the cooperation with two exhibition venues as well as an artist residency on Fogo Island (Canada) lasting several weeks and an extensive bilingual catalog. The first presentation of the current prize winners took place in fall 2020 at the Museum Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt am Main.
»Especially in times of crisis, it seems, protagonists and institutions (…) must feel obliged to make the importance of art and culture for a free and communal society visible again and again, especially to the public,« Ulrich Sauerwein and Franziska Nentwig from the Kulturkreis der deutschen Wirtschaft im BDI e. V. write in the catalog for the ars viva prize 2021.
The three selected winners of this year's ars viva prize, Rob Crosse, Sung Tieu and Richard Sides, are united by an interest in social issues that are dealt with in different ways in their works.
The impressive cinematic and photographic portraits of Rob Crosse (b. 1985 in Hertfordshire, UK) are poetic images of men at different ages in all their fragility. Through his works, the viewer is confronted with his own age and, though positively in Crosse's case, with the decay of his own body – a state in which we may already find ourselves or which will await us. Crosse's interest in the world focuses on the group activities organized by elderly people to help and assist one another. Whether he focuses on volunteer signal keepers, Hong Kong songbird owners, so-called mall walkers in Nebraska, or homosexual vacationers: His audiovisual work highlights the specifics of various pastimes in terms of the well-being of the people by whom they are engaged.
Already an internationally renowned artist, Sung Tieu (b. 1987 in Hai Duong, Vietnam) brings the images and events of the past, some of which are reminiscent of her own Vietnamese-German heritage, back to the present, for only here can they be reassessed and perhaps their consequences healed. Film editing, camera movement, but above all color alienation and sound create a tremendous maelstrom of images from the landscape shots taken in the forests and in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. Sung Tieu tells of war, but not in the ductus of the documentary; instead, she creates an atmosphere that is as oppressive as it is fantastic, fed by ritual, magic, and physical memory. Her impressive spatial installations consist of cool furniture-like elements reminiscent of film sets.
The artist Richard Sides (b. 1985 in Rotherham, GB) creates spaces within spaces: from simple materials he builds shutter-like installations that virtually "turn over" exhibition spaces just like Schwitter's Merzbau does, turning them into niche-like temporary rooms or resembling dwellings. In his installations he also shows filmic material, which in turn consists of recycled, self-produced and found sources. Improvisation is a central component of his works, which always merge into one another to create an allover setting that visitors can enter. The public and the supposedly private combine in his works, as well as familiar things from everyday life.
In terms of content, Rob Crosse, Richard Sides and Sung Tieu touch – each in their own distinctive way – the question of how we live now and will live in the future. For their exhibition, all three are developing new works that can be experienced side by side in an exhibition parcours.
This year's jury of the ars viva prize, chaired by Ulrich Sauerwein, included members of the Fine Arts Committee of the Kulturkreis der deutschen Wirtschaft as well as the cooperation partners Grit Weber (Museum Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt am Main), Kathleen Rahn and Sergey Harutoonian (Kunstverein Hannover), Willem de Rooij (Fogo Island Arts), Dr. Franziska Nentwig, Min-young Jeon, and Mathilda Legemah (Kulturkreis der deutschen Wirtschaft), and Hilke Wagner (Albertinum, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden) as expert advisor.