Visual Arts Mentor Ralph Lemon Awarded the Whitney Museum Bucksbaum Award

Mădălina Telea Borteș
December 01, 2022

Visual Arts Mentor Ralph Lemon was awarded the Whitney Museum’s singular Bucksbaum Award. Established in 2010 by Whitney trustee Melva Bucksbaum, the $100,000 award recognizes one Biennial artist “whose work demonstrates a singular combination of talent and imagination,” the press release notes. 

The questions posed by this year’s Biennial, which bore the title, Quiet as It’s Kept, honed in on intergenerational discourse and collectivity. Adrienne Edwards, who serves as the Whitney’s Engell Speyer Family Curator and Curator of Performance, posed one of the Biennial’s questions as this: “does each individual ‘I’ represent a ‘we?’”

Whether through choreography, performance, or writing, Lemon’s work foregrounds these questions, oftentimes through the body, which is conceptualized as a site of engagement and a portal into history. The installation at this year’s Biennial continued to do just this. As The Art Newspaper explains, the ink, watercolor, acrylic, and oil drawings and paintings Lemon presented were “installed throughout the museum, a display that changed over the course of the exhibition and included installing works in improbable locations, for example atop wall texts or within the freestanding walls holding other artists’ work.” 

As a result, the work expanded beyond the reaches of visual art and into performance, inviting viewers to consider and interact with the form of the work as much as with its content, an apt gesture considering that the Biennial was co-curated by Edwards, whose scholarly background centers on Performance Studies.

Ralph Lemon, 'Untitled,' 2021. (Oil and acrylic on paper, 26 × 40 in. Image courtesy the artist)

Although most of Lemon’s drawings and paintings had been rendered over the past two decades, they had never been exhibited before this year’s Biennial. As with other facets of Lemon’s work, such as his counter memorial performances captured on video and rarely shown, these creations make up part of Lemon’s “private practice,” as he explained in a recent interview with Galerie Magazine

During a speech at Point Park University, Lemon focused on the theoretical underpinnings of his practice, which center on freedom and generosity. Lemon said: “Freedom is discovered, understood, and can be generated. Shared. Perhaps becoming political. In my case a politic of hopeful generosity, a generosity that holds the whole wide world.”  

In light of this, it is unsurprising that his participation in this year’s Biennial continued within an ethos of “hopeful generosity” that generated ample moments to consider whether each “individual ‘I’ represent[s] a ‘we’,” and to do so in profound, playful, and innovative ways. 

Ralph Lemon is a choreographer, writer, curator, and visual artist based in New York, NY. He serves as a mentor in the Visual Arts program at Columbia University. In 2020, Lemon was awarded the prestigious Genius Grant and in 2021, he was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.