Korean artist Anicka Yi wins Hugo Boss Prize 2016

Conceptual artist Anicka Yi embraces discomfort in her boundary-pushing practice.

Experimenting with technology, science and nature, Anicka Yi creates work that engages all the senses.

Anicka Yi, Installation view of "7,070,430K of Digital Spit", Kunsthalle Basel, Basel, 2015. Photo: Philipp Hänger. Image courtesy 47 Canal, New York and Kunsthalle Basel, Basel.

Anicka Yi, Installation view of “7,070,430K of Digital Spit”, Kunsthalle Basel, Basel, 2015. Photo: Philipp Hänger. Image courtesy 47 Canal, New York and Kunsthalle Basel, Basel.

In an award ceremony at the Guggenheim Museum in New York on 20 October 2016, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation Director Richard Armstrong and Hugo Boss CEO Mark Langer announced that Korean artist Anicka Yi won the 2016 Hugo Boss Prize. The Prize awarded USD100,000 to the artist and a solo show at the Museum, which will be held in April 2017. The finalists for this year included Tania Bruguera, Mark Leckey, Ralph Lemon, Laura Owens and Wael Shawky.

The Prize was first established in 1996 in order to give financial and institutional support to an artist every two years. Previous winners have included Rirkrit Tiravanija (2004), Danh Vo (2012) and last year’s winner Paul Chan.

Now in its 11th edition, a panel of international museum directors, curators and critics judged the Prize. According to Armstrong, the Prize is to identify and celebrate “artists working at the forefront of cultural production”. The judges this year included:

  • Nancy Spector, the former deputy director and chief curator of the Guggenheim
  • Katherine Brinson, a curator of contemporary art at the Guggenheim
  • Dan Byers, a senior curator at the ICA Boston
  • Elena Filipovic, the director and chief curator of the Kunsthalle Basel
  • Michelle Kuo, the editor in chief of Artforum
  • Pablo Léon de la Barra, the Guggenheim’s UBS MAP curator of Latin American art
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Restoration. Completion Photograph by David Heald © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Restoration. Completion Photo: David Heald. © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.

Anicka Yi: Hugo Boss Prize 2016 winner

Challenging the limits of the visual arts

Anicka Yi was born in Seoul in 1971 and currently lives in New York. She is a conceptual artist who works in a range of media, pushing the boundaries of what substances can be integrated into art works. Yi incorporates a scientific approach in her practice and often creates works that engage all the senses, such as the sense of smell.

Her solo exhibitions include ones at Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel (2016), Kunsthalle Basel (2015), MIT List Visual Arts Center (2015), The Kitchen, New York (2015) and Cleveland Museum of Art (2014). She has also been included in significant international exhibitions, such as recent exhibitions at Gwangju Biennial (2016), Taipei Biennial (2014), THEM, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin (2015), Lyon Biennial (2014) and Love of Technology, Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami (2013).

Click here to watch a video of Anicka Yi talking about her scientific approach to art making and the desire to create work that engages all of the senses.

The jurors praised Yi’s innovative practice and the generative possibilities it offered. A statement the judges explained that:

We are particularly compelled by the way Yi’s sculptures and installations make public and strange, and thus newly addressable, our deeply subjective corporeal realities. We also admire the unique embrace of discomfort in her experiments with technology, science, and the plant and animal worlds, all of which push at the limits of perceptual experience in the ‘visual’ arts. The artist gives material and olfactory form to complex networks of ideas, imbuing her unusual materials with both political and psychological urgency.

Anicka Yi, 'Sister', 2011, tempura fried flowers, cotton turtleneck, approximately 104.14cm x 48.26cm x 17.78cm. Photo: Joerg Lohse. Image courtesy 47 Canal, New York.

Anicka Yi, ‘Sister’, 2011, tempura fried flowers, cotton turtleneck, approximately 104.14cm x 48.26cm x 17.78cm. Photo: Joerg Lohse. Image courtesy 47 Canal, New York.

Curator and Kunsthalle Basel Director Elena Filipovic agrees that Yi is engaging with themes that are pivotal to the current societal concerns:

Yi manages to reflect on our contemporary condition and how we are transformed by digital technologies without forgetting that, as beings, we live and love and die—and rot along the way.

This interest in the materiality of the world we live in, including its natural states, is something that is present in much of Yi’s work. From 2014 to 2015 she undertook a residency at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she worked with biologists to grow bacteria swabbed from 100 women in the art world. From this she created sculptures and installations that incorporated perishable substances and bacteria.

Anicka Yi, '2666', 2015, bacteria, nutrient agar, Plexiglas, 60.96cm x 50.80cm x 10.16cm. Photo: Philipp Hänger. Image courtesy 47 Canal, New York and Kunsthalle Basel.

Anicka Yi, ‘2666’, 2015, bacteria, nutrient agar, Plexiglas, 60.96cm x 50.80cm x 10.16cm. Photo: Philipp Hänger. Image courtesy 47 Canal, New York and Kunsthalle Basel.

Art that engages all the senses

One of her big projects in 2015 was the solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel, “7,070,430K of Digital Spit” (a title which referred to an earlier work from 2010). Yi made a number of fragrances that explored the idea of forgetting, creating an immersive and sensual experience that according to Elena Filipovic, was “sexy, covetable, fragile, entropic, smelly, ugly, and sublime at once”.

This is not the only time Yi used scent in her artistic practice. As Chris Sharpe states in the essay “Anicka Yi’s Allegorical Bouquets” (PDF download), Yi’s video The Flavor Genome (2016) describes the power of illusion that the sense of smell creates:

Flavour chemists are illusionists. We can create flavours that mimic the taste and smell of virtually anything. Strawberry and vanilla flavour can be extracted from the gland in a beaver’s backside. Indoles are present in faeces. At low concentrations this compound smells like flowers. Imagine if you could taste a multitude of chemical personas. What if you could inhabit the mind of a cannibal? A hormonal teenager? Or be suicidal without having to be socially alienated and go through with killing yourself?

This Prize is an acknowledgement of how Yi is continually pushing her work in innovative directions.

Claire Wilson

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Related topics: art prizes, award ceremonies, news, awards, Korean artists, conceptual art

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