There are things that I’m constantly looking at that I feel should be elevated to greater status, almost to philosophical status or to a religious status. That’s why taking things out of context is a useful tool to an artist. It’s the concept of taking something that’s not subject matter and making it subject matter. — Ed Ruscha
The J. Paul Getty Trust announced Wednesday that it will present the annual J. Paul Getty Medal, its highest honor, to renowned Classicist Professor Mary Beard and artists Lorna Simpson and Ed Ruscha.
Established in 2013 by the trustees of the J. Paul Getty Trust, the J. Paul Getty Medal has been awarded to 11 distinguished individuals to honor their extraordinary contributions to the practice, understanding and support of the arts.
“We award the Getty Medal to recognize outstanding achievement in the fields in which we work,” said Maria Hummer-Tuttle, chair, J. Paul Getty Board of Trustees. “We are honored to present the medal this year to three leaders who have helped transform and deepen our understanding and appreciation of the visual arts and the humanities.”
James Cuno, president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, said of artist Lorna Simpson, “She is at once a photographer and multimedia artist whose work is both trenchant in its critique of race, gender, and identity, and exquisite in its formal beauty and technical execution.”
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Lorna Simpson came to prominence in the 1980s with her pioneering approach to conceptual photography. Ms. Simpson’s early work – particularly her striking juxtapositions of text and staged images – raised questions about the nature of representation, identity, gender, race, memory, and history that continue to drive the artist’s expanding and multi-disciplinary practice today, with painting, drawing, film, collage and sculpture now subject to her alchemy. Over the course of three decades, Ms. Simpson has emerged as a leading voice in a generation of American artists questioning constructed historical narratives and the performative crafting of identity. She deftly examines the slippery nature of representation and meaning to reveal the ways in which larger cultural forces impact the everyday in an enigmatic and profound art.
“I am humbled by this honor,” said Ms. Simpson. “I am so thrilled to receive the Getty Medal.”
Mr. Cuno hailed Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge, author of numerous books on Roman history, Classics Editor of the Times Literary Supplement, and, with Simon Schama and David Olusoga, presenter of the BBC series “Civilisations,” as “one of the world’s premier public intellectuals and Classical scholars, whose scholarship is both deeply original and broadly accessible. Professor Beard has illuminated the ancient world for countless readers and students.”
Said Professor Beard, “I am very honored by this award, and appreciative of the Getty and its trustees for the work they do to further knowledge and appreciation of the ancient world.”
Mr. Cuno praised Ed Ruscha as “one of our generation’s most original artists, a distinguished and profound painter, draftsman, photographer and bookmaker who finds profundity in the commonplace, through art that is at once highly conceptual, elegant, witty and technically masterful,” noting the Getty Research Institute’s recent acquisition of Mr. Ruscha’s “Streets of Los Angeles” archive.
At the start of his artistic career, in 1950s Los Angeles, Ed Ruscha called himself an “abstract artist ... who deals with subject matter.” Abandoning academic connotations that came to be associated with Abstract Expressionism, he looked instead to tropes of advertising and brought words —as form, symbol, and material — to the forefront of painting. Working in diverse media with humor and wit, he oscillates between sign and substance, locating the sublime in landscapes both natural and artificial.
“I am deeply honored to join my fellow Getty Medalists in receiving the Getty Medal,” said Mr. Ruscha.
The awards will be presented in September at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.
Past recipients of the J. Paul Getty Medal have included Harold Williams and Nancy Englander, who were honored for their leadership in creating today’s Getty; Lord Jacob Rothschild, for his leadership in the preservation of built cultural heritage; Frank Gehry, for transforming the built landscape with buildings such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall; Yo-Yo Ma, for his efforts to deepen understanding of the world’s diverse cultures; Ellsworth Kelly, for paintings and sculptures of the highest quality and originality; Anselm Kiefer, for his powerful, complex paintings and sculptures; Mario Vargas Llosa, Peruvian writer, politician, journalist, college professor and recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature; Thelma Golden, for her influential leadership; Agnes Gund, for her philanthropy and commitment to justice; and sculptor Richard Serra, who expanded our definition of sculpture.