Okwui Enwezor at New York’s Asia Society in 2014. Photo: Elsa Ruiz/Flickr.

The organizers of the Venice Biennale have announced that they are awarding four special Golden Lions this year, all posthumously, to former curators of the Biennale. Among the winners of the prestigious prize are Okwui Enwezor (1963–2019), who in 2015 became the storied Biennale’s first (and to date, only) Black curator, and Germano Celant (1940–2020), who oversaw the 1997 iteration.

The other two recipients are Maurizio Calvesi (1927–2020) and Vittorio Gregotti (1927–2020), who each curated two editions of the Biennale in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively. 

Celant, a tireless supporter of the Arte Povera movement, died of Covid-19 earlier this year, as did Gregotti, an architect whose projects included the Barcelona Olympic Stadium and the Arcimboldi Opera Theater in Milan. Enwezor won acclaim for producing institutional exhibitions that embraced a global aesthetic, rather than a Eurocentric and American worldview, while Calvesi is remembered for elevating Futurism.

“La Biennale was the laboratory where Calvesi, Celant, Enwezor and Gregotti expressed their original and visionary critical thinking which looked to the future, often anticipating it,” said Venice Biennale president Roberto Cicutto in a statement.

Golden Lions are typically handed out to artists as lifetime achievement awards, though Swiss curator Harald Szeemann, who curated two Biennales in the early 2000s, received one posthumously in 2005.

The four special prizes will be bestowed during a September 1 awards ceremony that will follow the opening of “The Disquieted Muses: When La Biennale di Venezia Meets History,” an archival exhibition taking place August 29–December 8 at the Giardini and centering around catalytic moments in the Biennale’s 125-year history. The exhibition’s six curators, led by Cecilia Alemani, curator of the postponed 2021 Venice Biennale, and Hashim Sarkis, artistic director of the postponed architecture biennial, are responsible for the decision to award the posthumous prizes.

Speaking to Artnet, Alemani described the awards as “a way of recognizing some of the protagonists who have shaped the history of the Biennale itself, and who are admired and recognized worldwide, and whose memory we want to preserve.”

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