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Whitechapel Gallery reveal Isaac Julien as the 2024 Art Icon.

Whitechapel Gallery is delighted to announce the eleventh recipient of its prestigious Art Icon Award as the visionary filmmaker and artist, Isaac Julien KBE RA. The award, which celebrates the work of an artist who has made a profound contribution to a generation of artists, will be presented to Julien at a gala celebration hosted by Whitechapel Gallery Director, Gilane Tawadros on 18th March 2024. 

Whitechapel Gallery reveal Isaac Julien as the 2024 Art Icon.
Isaac Julien, London, 2023. © Tim Walker Studio

Isaac Julien (b.1960, London) is widely regarded as one of our leading visual artists, celebrated for his impressionistic, sensual films and ambitious video installations. His work moves fluently – and purposefully – between a range of artistic disciplines, including film, dance, photography, music, theatre and sculpture, breaking down barriers to create multi-layered visual narratives that address and explore themes of desire, history and culture as well as investigate the movement of peoples across different continents, times and spaces. 

Julien came to wide, critical and cult attention for his 1989 film, Looking for Langston, a poetic exploration of the private world of author, poet and playwright, Langston Hughes (1901-1967), who, alongside, his fellow black artists and writers formed the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s. His debut feature film, Young Souls Rebels (1991) won the Semaine de la Critique prize at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2022 Julien was awarded a knighthood as well as being the recipient of the prestigious Goslar Kaiserring Award. His most recent work, the stunning large-scale installation, Once Again . . . (Statues Never Die) (2022), had a UK premiere at Tate Britain as part of Julien’s major 2023 retrospective. Lessons of the Hour (2019), his exquisite ten-screen meditation on the life of visionary 19th-century African American writer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, will be shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in May 2024.

Of the announcement, Tawadros commented: 

It’s an honour to announce Isaac Julien as our 2024 Art Icon. His ground-breaking, visually compelling film and video works, alongside his elaborate multi-screen installations, have defined new and important territories for artists and filmmakers, and changed the way that audiences view and experience moving image work – both within and outside art spaces. 

His work offers a uniquely seductive yet critical lens to explore and interrogate historical and contemporary experiences and he is rightfully acknowledged to be one of the most influential artists of his generation. I couldn’t be more delighted to be presenting him with this year’s award on behalf of Whitechapel Gallery and the 2024 Art Icon committee.

The evening celebrations will include a special guest performance from the legendary Soul, R&B and Jazz singer, Mica Paris MBE. Paris performed the title track of Julien’s 1991 award-winning feature film, Young Soul Rebels

There will also be an online auction of artworks donated by leading contemporary artists hosted by Phillips Auction House. All funds raised will support Whitechapel Gallery’s Education and Public Programmes, in particular, a dedicated series of activities designed to increase access to and engagement with, arts and creativity for children and young people. 

The Art Icon committee for 2024 comprised Dorota AudemarsErin BellÉmilie de Pauw, Charlotte Gibbs, Dame Vivian Hunt & Nicholas BasdenVictoria MiroBimpe NkontchouEbele OkobiGemma Rolls-Bentley and Darren Walker.

The Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon Award was established in 2014 and celebrates the work of an artist who has made a profound contribution to a particular medium, influencing their own and subsequent generations of artists. 

Previous recipients of the Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon Award are Sir Howard Hodgkin (2014), Richard Long (2015) Joan Jonas (2016), Peter Doig (2017), Mona Hatoum (2018), Rachel Whiteread (2019), Francis Alÿs (2020), Yinka Shonibare CBE RA (2021), Tracey Emin (2022), and Jenny Holzer (2023).

About the artist

Filmmaker and installation artist, Isaac Julien KBE RA, was born in 1960 in London. His work breaks down the barriers between different artistic disciplines, drawing from, and commenting on, film, dance, photography, music, theatre, painting, and sculpture, and uniting them to construct powerful visual narratives through multi-screen film installations.

His 1989 documentary-drama, titled Looking for Langston, explores US author, journalist, poet and playwright, Langston Hughes, (1901-1967) who, alongside fellow black artists and writers, formed the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s, brought Julien critical and cult acclaim, while his 1991 debut feature Young Soul Rebels won the Semaine de la Critique prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

His latest work Once Again . . . (Statues Never Die) is an immersive five-screen installation that explores the relationship between Dr. Albert C. Barnes, an early US collector and exhibitor of African material culture, and the famed philosopher and cultural critic Alain Locke, known as the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance.”

In Spring/Summer 2023, Tate Britain presented a major survey of Julien’s forty-year career encompassing his early films through his large-scale, multi-screen installations, and showcasing the breadth and depth of his practice.

Recent international solo exhibitions include Once Again . . . (Statues Never Die) at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, 2022; Lessons of the Hour, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, USA, 2022; Isaac Julien: Lina Bo Bardi – A Marvellous Entanglement, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlotte, NC, USA, on view until 27th February, 2022; Isaac Julien: Lina Bo Bardi — A Marvellous Entanglement, CentroCentro (Panorama Madrid), Madrid, Spain (2021); Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour, McAvoy Foundation for the Arts, San Francisco (2020–2021); Isaac Julien: Lina Bo Bardi — A Marvellous Entanglement, MAXXI, Rome (2020–2021); Isaac Julien: Western Union: Small Boats, Neuberger Museum, New York (2020); Isaac Julien: Frederick Douglass: Lessons of the Hour, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah (2019); Looking for Langston at Tate Britain (2019); and Playtime at LACMA (2019).

Julien has previously exhibited at venues including the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2013), Art Institute of Chicago (2013), Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (2012), and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2005). He participated in the inaugural Diaspora Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale (2017) with Western Union: Small Boats. Previously, he presented Kapital and directed Das Kapital Oratorio in the 56th edition of the Venice Biennale, curated by Okwui Enwezor, in 2015. His work has also been exhibited in the 7th Gwangju Biennial, South Korea (2008); Prospect 1, New Orleans (2008); Performa 07, New York (2007) and in documenta 11, Kassel (2002).

Julien has taught extensively, holding posts such as Chair of Global Art at University of Arts London (2014-2016) and Professor of Media Art at Staatliche Hochschule fur Gestaltung, Karlsruhe, Germany (2008 – 2016). He is the recipient of the James Robert Brudner ‘83 Memorial Prize and Lectures at Yale University (2016).

In 2018, Julien joined the faculty at the University of California Santa Cruz where he is a distinguished professor of the arts and leads the Moving Image Lab together with Arts Professor Mark Nash. Julien is the recipient of The Royal Academy of Arts Charles Wollaston Award 2017. Most recently, he was awarded a Kaiserring Goslar Award in 2022, and a knighthood in the Queen’s Honours List in 2022.

Upcoming exhibitions include Once Again… (Statues Never Die) at the Whitney Biennial, New York (March 2024), and Lessons of the Hour at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (May 2024).



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