With over 30-years of collaborations with the likes of Andy Warhol, Rosemarie Trockel and Keith Haring and their Art Bars popping all around the world, Absolut has managed to maintain a close and fruitful connection to the art world. One way they show this strong infatuation with art is through their Absolut Art Award – an award that acknowledges the activities and creations of the most exciting visionaries of our time. Instituted in 2009 and being held every two years, the Award sustains creative works in the field of art and writing, providing a unique opportunity to bring dream projects to life, with absolutely no commercial restraints. With a jury composed of leading art professionals, writers, and curators, the Award aims to celebrate both images and ideas.
Led by Daniel Birnbaum, Director of Moderna Museet, Stockholm, the 2017 Jury has selected a fantastic group of finalists, with diverse multidisciplinary practices and far-reaching interests. Six shortlisted artists and five shortlisted art writers for the Art Work and Art Writing categories were selected from a total of 49 nominated artists and art writers, and each of them will prepare a proposal for an artwork, project or art publication. The winner in the Art Work category will receive a cash prize of €20,000 and a budget of €100,000 to produce and exhibit a new work or project, while the winning art writer will be awarded a cash prize of €20,000 and a stipend of €25,000 to be used towards the research and production of a new art publication. After reviewing the proposals in both categories, the winners will be announced in May.
To learn more about this year’s Absolut Art Award and its finalists, we’ve had a chat with Saskia Neuman, the Global Art Manager at Absolut and the Director of the Absolut Art Award. In an exclusive Widewalls interview, Saskia talks about the history of brand’s strong infatuation with the art world, the place Absolut holds in the international art community, this year’s finalists, future plans and projects, and much more. Scroll down and enjoy!
Widewalls: Absolut has managed to maintain a close and fruitful connection to the art world for almost 30 years. Can you tell us a bit about the history of brand’s infatuation and collaboration with the art world?
Saskia Neuman: Absolut has a longstanding relationship with contemporary art and artists. Our first commission invited Andy Warhol to create a piece of work inspired by the Absolut bottle in 1985. This artwork became an advertisement featuring the iconic bottle, and has opened the door to over 850 collaborations with more than 550 artists to date.
Widewalls: Can you tell us a bit about Absolut’s objectives and its role in the international art community?
SN: Absolut supports acclaimed artists, art writers, and institutions in their efforts to present new works, stimulate ideas, bring people together and broaden access to creativity.
One strand of this is the biennial Absolut Art Award, instituted in 2009 to mark 30 years of creative collaborations with artists, and is unique in acknowledging art writers as well as artists. It offers the winner of each category – Art Work and Art Writing – the opportunity to develop a dream project, which would otherwise not be possible.
In addition, through our programme of Absolut Art Bars, we offer an artist the opportunity to fully conceptualise and curate a space, including creating an Artist Cocktail and developing a changing nightly programme of performers, musicians and DJs.
Widewalls: You are the Global Art Manager at Absolut and the Director of the Absolut Art Award. Can you tell us something about your personal experience of working on this project? What does this position mean to you?
SN: The award means a great deal to me, as does my position at Absolut. As a curator, it is wonderful to be able to work so closely with artists, writers and musicians, and be given the opportunity to collaborate on amazing projects. The weight Absolut carries in the creative sphere and our substantial contribution to the arts is admirable, especially through a project such as the Absolut Art Award, which is completely philanthropic. Coming from an institutional background, having worked at KW Institute for Contemporary Art and the Venice Biennale, the corporate structure initially posed a learning curve for me, but the overarching support, enthusiasm and interest for contemporary art and artistic expression permeates throughout the company. Art is truly in the DNA of Absolut Vodka – it’s the way the brand expresses itself.
Widewalls: Absolut Art Award will be presented for the sixth time this September. Are there some innovations we can expect this year?
SN: All of the 2017 Absolut Art Award finalists are fantastic boundary-pushing artists and art writers, with diverse multidisciplinary practices. For past awards, 5 finalists in both the Art Work and Art Writing categories are invited to submit a proposal for their dream project, however this year the Jury were unable to choose between six, as they felt strongly that all six deserved the opportunity to submit proposals. The finalists in the Art Work category are Simon Denny, Anne Imhof, Shahryar Nashat, Cameron Rowland, Anicka Yi, and Samson Young, and the finalists in the Art Writing category are Huey Copeland, Johanna Fateman, Orit Gat, Isabelle Graw, and Shanay Jhaveri.
Widewalls: Who comprises the Jury of the Art Award this year?
SN: The 2017 Absolut Award is led by Jury President Daniel Birnbaum, Director of Moderna Museet, Stockholm. The 2017 Jury comprises Simon Castets, Elena Filipovic, Polly Staple, and Jack Bankowsky.
Widewalls: Can you tell us something about this year’s finalists? What criteria were used to select them?
SN: The 2017 Jury, led by Jury President Daniel Birnbaum, selected this year’s Absolut Art Award finalists. They were looking for artists who were doing something new and innovative, as well as who they truly believed to be opening up new ways of approaching their artistic practice. For art writers, they worked to select those who push the boundaries of what art writing can be today.
Widewalls: What’s next for Absolut?
SN: Upcoming Absolut projects include an Absolut Art Bar titled Room Service by João Vasco Paiva, which will open at Potato Head in Hong Kong during Hong Kong Art Week from 17 March – 2 April 2017. The Art Bar is the artist’s vision of a timeless oasis where the contemporary world and nature coincide. It is inspired by the opening scene of Terrence Malick’s 1998 film A Thin Red Line as well as Hindu vernacular architecture. João has curated a diverse programme of music which aims to highlight the contrast between day and night through acoustic and digital sets, including live acoustic performances and a variety of electronic and DJ acts. He has also created a series of Artist Cocktails to reflect the theme of retreat.
On 28 April 2017, Frances Stark’s 2015 Absolut Art Award-winning project, a 110-minute digital film adaptation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, will be premiered at LACMA in Los Angeles. Frances was awarded 100,000 euros for her proposal to realise the pedagogical opera, and has worked with a producer, conductor, and a group of 10-19-year-olds who make up the 26-piece orchestra playing an adapted version of Mozart’s original score. The project is defined by the idea of artistic exchange across disciplines, generations and genres, resulting in a powerful learning, and teaching experience for all involved.
Further ahead, we look forward to the announcement of the 2017 Absolut Art Award winners, which will take place on 12 May 2017 during La Biennale di Venezia – 57th International Art Exhibition, as well as the unveiling of Mark Godfrey’s 2015 Absolut Art Award for Art Work-winning project: an anthology dedicated to ‘The Black Art Debate’ and African-American art in the 1960s and 70s.
Featured image: Portrait of Saskia Neuman, Photo by Roberto Chamorro; Yazan Khalili, The Island installation view; Seth Troxler and RUN, installation view of Tomorrow Today, an Absolut Art Bar in Ibiza, 7-8 July 2016. Photo Roberto Chamorro; Nadim Abbas Apocalypse Postponed (installation view) Absolut Art Bar at Art Basel in Hong Kong 13 - 17 May 2014 Photo Roberto Chamorro. All images courtesy of Absolut.