By Randy Gener

NEW YORK CITY | Africa and the Middle East dominate this year’s Praemium Imperiale award winners, with Spain and the U.S. trailing. Of the five new 2017 laureattes, two hail from Senegal and Ghana. The third is the first Iranian woman to receive the Praemium Imperiale.

Oh, and did you hear about Baryshnikov?

The Praemium Imperiale styles itself as Japan’s royal answer to Norway’s Nobel Prize. It identifies — and doles out awards to — some of the world’s greatest artists in the categories not recognized by the Nobel Prize. These fields of artistic endeavor are Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Music, and Theatre/Film.

At a posh press luncheon in New York (held on September 12), the distinguished dancer/actor Mikhail Baryshnikov and world music star Youssou N’Dour were formally touted for their lifetime achievements.

David Rockefeller Jr., the U.S. banker and philanthropist, said from the podium: “As we struggle to adapt to a world in which technology and impersonal communciations assume greater and greater prominence — a world in which the arts are too often overlooked if not deemed essential — the Praemium Imperiale  remains an enduring expression of our collective values. And a reminder that there will always be a place in the world for beauty and joy.”

Unfortunately, Baryshnikov could make it to the New York announcement.  He has been stuck in Buenos Aires where he is presently working with the American director Robert Wilson in LETTER TO A MAN, which puts body and soul to another colossus of the history of universal ballet Vaslav Nijinsky.

Architect Rafael Moneo, visual artists Shirin Neshat and sculptor El Anatsui round out the new Imperiale laureates, the Japan Art Association also announced at The Juilliard School’s Paul Recital Hall in New York City.

Japanese Prince Hitachi and Princess Hanako Hitachi during an Imperiale award ceremony.

Soon to come qualifies as magnific — an October 18 ceremony inside Meiji Kinenkan in Tokyo in which none other than His Imperial Highness Prince Hitachi will bestow each laureate with a specially-designed gold medal and a testimonial letter. (Now a Shinto historical sanctuary, Meiji Kinenkan was where the Constitution of the Empire of Japan was drafted.)  The Imperiale prize also carries with it 15 million Japanese yen (approximately $136,000).

Presenters of the global prize praised Neshat’s activism in behalf of her Iranian artists compatriots, patricular that of the late Ardeshir Mohassess, who was largely unknown in the West.

“I felt that this somehow goes towards Shirin Neshat‘s border role in helping other artists to show the world and to gain recognition,” said Peggy Loar, former director of the Asia Society Museum in New York. “Shirin goes beyond a singular or individual approach. She tries to help us all see the world in a different way. Sometimes from the perspective of being a woman. Sometimes as one living outside one’s homeland. And sometimes as someone who stands for their race.”

The Fujisankei Communications Group, represented at the New York event by Fuji Media Holdings CEO Hisashi Hieda, pays for the expenses of around $3 million per year, created the prize.  What is now known as the Japan Art Association was created in 1879, on the advice of the Meiji Emperor, to encourage Japanese artists and to forge relations with other countries.

Youssou N’Dour (in yellow)

Grant for Young Artists

In addition to the Praemium Imperiale, the Japan Art Association awards an annual grant of 5 million yen (approximately $45,000) to a group or institution that encourages young people’s involvement in the arts.
Maya Zbib of Zoukak Theatre Company and Cultural Association (Lebanon)

This year’s winner of the Grant for Young Artists is Lebanon’s Zoukak Theatre Company and Cultural Association, a collective that explores Lebanon’s most pressing social and humanitarian challenges through the prism of theater. A biography of the winner can be found below.

In 2006, the actress Maya Zbib and other actors founded the Zoukak Theatre Company in Beirut and began using the tools of drama therapy and psychosocial intervention, working in schools with displaced children and with women from the south of Lebanon.  Zoukak offers drama-therapy workshops to enhance the psychological well-being of Palestinian, Syrian, Sudanese, and Iraqi refugees, and other marginalized communities.

The Grant for Young Artists was inaugurated in 1997 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Praemium Imperiale.

Previous winners of the Grant for Young Artists include Cuba’s Instituto Superior de Arte, Poland’s Lodz Film School, the Vietnam National Conservatory of Music, the Ulster Youth Orchestra, the Kremerata Baltica Chamber Orchestra, and Detroit’s Sphinx Organization.


Now in its 29th year, the Praemium Imperiale was created in 1988 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Japan Art Association and to honor the late Prince Takamatsu, who was the Association’s honorary patron for almost six decades.

Shirin Neshat

The Association chooses the winners based on the recommendations of individual International Advisors in England, France, Italy, Germany and the United States.

Each advisor is guided by the recommendations of an anonymoua nominating committee comprising cultural leaders from his home country. The International Advisors are leading figures with a deep interest or involvement in the arts.

Architect Rafael Moneo

Since 1879, the Japan Art Association received advice from the Meiji Emperor, to encourage Japanese artists and to forge relations with other countries.  Over the decades, the organization and its museum have played an active role in Japan’s cultural life, presenting exhibitions of traditional arts and art from abroad. In 1988, on its 100th anniversary, the association created the Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award in honor of the late Prince Takamatsu, who had served as honorary patron for 58 years.

Speaking in Japanese, Fuji Media CEO Hisashi Hieda said, “It was the prince’s wish that the Praemium Imperiale be created to help promote global culture and art. Since this is an internationall award, well-known global leaders are asked to partake as advisers.”

Hieda listed the names of world leaders and politicians whom he said “became central to the evolution of the prize.”  The list included the late Japanse Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, Museum of Modern Art President William H. Luers, President of France Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

Dame Judy Dench receives her Imperiale prize from the Japanese prince in Tokyo.

Hieda made special mention to David Rockefeller Sr. whose son David Rockefeller Jr. continued their ongoing philantrophic support.

David Rockefeller Jr.

“Under his father’s leadership, the first press anouncement was held in New York at the Rockefeller Center. The Imperiale ceremony took place at the Museum of Modern Art where it was held in the presence of the Japanese emperor and empress.”

That king was Hirohito. In Japan, he is now referred to primarily by his posthumous name, Emperor Shōwa, who reigned from 1926 through 1989.  Prince Takamatsu (1905 to 1987) was his younger brother and was famous for being an active patron of the arts.

The 2017 winners of the Praemium Imperiale join 144 of the greatest artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. They include:

  • Ingmar Bergman
  • Leonard Bernstein
  • Peter Brook
  • Anthony Caro
  • Christo and Jeanne-Claude
  • Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
  • Norman Foster
  • Frank Gehry
  • Jean-Luc Godard
  • David Hockney
  • Willem de Kooning
  • Akira Kurosawa
  • Arthur Miller
  • Seiji Ozawa
  • Renzo Piano
  • Robert Rauschenberg
  • Mstislav Rostropovich
  • Ravi Shankar
  • Cindy Sherman and
  • Stephen Sondheim.

The Praemium Imperiale press luncheon at the Metropolitan Opera | Photo by Randy Gener




About Admin is a NYC-based production, event and media project devoted to U.S. news, foreign diplomacy, cultural issues, innovative art projects and journalism in the public interest. Learn more about the proprietor at

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.