Art Market

Arthur Jafa and Lithuania’s pavilion received the top prizes at the Venice Biennale.

Benjamin Sutton
May 13, 2019 4:05PM, via Venice Biennale

Arthur Jafa and Ralph Rugoff at the 2019 Venice Biennale Golden Lions ceremony. Photo by Felix Hörhager/picture alliance via Getty Images.

The 2019 Venice Biennale’s top honors, the Golden Lion for an artist in the main exhibition and the Golden Lion for a national pavilion, were awarded, respectively, to the U.S. artist Arthur Jafa, and to artists Lina Lapelyte, Vaiva Grainyte, and Rugile Barzdziukaite for their Lithuanian Pavilion project, Sun & Sea (Marina) (2019). The Biennale’s jury this year consisted of Gropius Bau director Stephanie Rosenthal, V-A-C Foundation curator-at-large Defne Ayas, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea director Cristiana Collu, influential South Korean curator Sunjung Kim, and LAXART director Hamza Walker.

Lithuania Pavilion artists Lina Lapelyte, Rugile Barzdziukaite, and Vaiva Grinyte. Photo © Andrej Vasilenko.

The jury members highlighted Jafa’s new film for the Biennale, The White Album (2019), as they noted in an announcement, because while it “critiques a moment fraught with violence, in tenderly portraying the artist’s friends and family, it also speaks to our capacity for love.” As for the Lithuanian Pavilion, the jury said it

was impressed with the inventive use of the venue to present a Brechtian opera as well as the Pavilion’s engagement with the city of Venice and its inhabitants. Sun & Sea (Marina) is a critique of leisure and of our times as sung by a cast of performers and volunteers portraying everyday people.

Rugile Barzdziukaite, Vaiva Grainyte, and Lina Lapelyte, Sun & Sea (Marina), 2019, opera-performance, Biennale Arte 2019, Venice. Photo © Andrej Vasilenko.

At an award ceremony on Saturday, the Biennale also awarded a Silver Lion—honoring “a promising young participant” in Ralph Rugoff’s exhibition—to the Cyprus-born, Berlin-based sculptor Haris Epaminonda. The Belgian Pavilion, which this year hosts a project by Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys, was given a special mention, as were central exhibition artists Teresa Margolles and Otobong Nkanga. And the U.S. artist Jimmie Durham received his previously announced lifetime achievement prize.

Benjamin Sutton