Who are the winners of the Igor Zabel Award for Culture and Theory 2014?

Photo: Barbara Zeidler
Photo: Barbara Zeidler

The first prize (EUR 40,000) goes to Ekatarina Degot, currently art director at the Academy of the Arts of the World in Cologne, curator, critic and engaged publicist. One of the three Igor Zabel working grants (each worth EUR 12,000) is traditionally awarded by the laureate. This year it goes to the Russian activist, writer and translator Kirill Medvedev for his publishing house, Free Marxist Press. The jury awarded two grants to theorists who examine the relation between art and politics: the art theorist Karel Císař from Prague and the art historian Miklavž Komelj from Ljubljana.

With this year’s winner, the Igor Zabel Award is sending out a clear signal of support for the recent Russian dissident cultral scene. Ekatarina Degot was awarded the prize for her interdisciplinary work as a critic and curator who primarily focuses on socio-political and aesthetic issues in Russia and Eastern Europe (spanning from historical avant-guards untill contemporary art). Her recent writings on hosting and boycotting the Manifesta 10 in St. Petersburg received a great deal of attention and contributed importantly to related discussions. In a subtle manner, she made it clear that it would have been fatal to cut off Russian artists from international exchange at this moment in time, even though there was always a risk that the renowned exhibition could be misappropriated to cultivate the image of Putin Russia.

Kirill Medvedev, whose publishing house Free Marxist Press was awarded an Igor Zabel grant by Ekatarina Degot, is also known for his outspoken dissident stance. The non-profit publishing house sees itself as an educational project to promote contemporary Marxist and critical theory, political art and poetry. Publications and campaigns broach the history of labour, socialist and antifascist groups, as well as women, homosexual and minority movements.

Miklavž Komelj is an art historian, poet and translator based in Ljubljana. Komelj was awarded an Igor Zabel grant for his impassioned writing and research on relations between art and politics and on art and artists that receive little attention and are overlooked. The jury acknowledged his study on art made by the partisans in World War II in Slovenia, How to Think Partisan Art? (Kako misliti partizansko umetnost?, 2009). He also presented Partisan art within the permanent collection of the Moderna Galerija in Ljubljana.

Karel Císař is an assistant professor of aesthetics and art theory at the Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in Prague. The jury awarded him an Igor Zabel grant because “his work as art theorist and curator is grounded in a deep sensibility for the social cultural and political developments and their influence on culture and the arts in the past and the present”. The jury acknowledged also his outstanding knowledge on and curatorial ability to combine different media, sucah as fine arts, photography, film, literature, architecture and design.

Endowed with a total prize money of EUR 76,000, the Igor Zabel Award for Culture and Theory has been awarded every two years since 2008 and was thus awarded for the fourth time in 2014. The prize is an initiative of ERSTE Foundation and is organized in cooperation with the Igor Zabel Association for Culture and Theory. It honours exceptional cultural achievements by curators, critics, art historians and art theorists whose work is related to Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe. The prize winners are selected by an international jury. In 2014 the jury consists of philosopher Keti Chukhrov (Moscow), artist and architect Apolonija Šušteršič (Ljubljana) and the curator and deputy director of mumok, Rainer Fuchs.

The awards ceremony was held in the evening of 6 November at the Viennese Secession in a setting designed by the Austrian artist Josef Dabernig, with whom Igor Zabel was closely collaborating on several occasions.

In the afternoon the prize winners presented themselves at a conference in mumok, under the motto “Continuing Dialogues”. The public had an opportunity to get an insight into their work through a form of a dialogue between the winners and the jury members. Karel Císař talked to Rainer Fuchs about his exhibition “Figures and Prefigurations”, which was on show at the City Gallery Prague in 2013. Miklavž Komelj and Apolonija Šušteršič were inspired with the secession’s motto “To every age its art, to every art its freedom.” by Ludwig Hevesi. Keti Chukhrov, Ekaterina Degot and Kirill Medvedev chose the topic of “Neo-Patriotism and the Options of Dissidentship” in Russia today.