Distinguished guests! Ladies and Gentlemen! Dear Friends!
On behalf of the jury, I am having the honor to welcome you on this 1st of March, the 126th birthday of Oskar Kokoschka, for the awarding ceremony of the Oskar Kokoschka Prize 2012.
Being President of the University of Applied Arts Vienna and as such Chairman of the Oskar Kokoschka Prize Jury – I proudly can say that it is not by accident that the Oskar Kokoschka Prize was initiated by Oswald Oberhuber a former Rector of this University of Applied Arts, an institution which was and still is dedicated to impacting on society by the arts and impacting on the system of the arts by aesthetic innovation.
Founded in 1981 by the Austrian government, the prize is awarded on a two-year basis to a living artist for outstanding achievements in the field of fine arts.
To these extraordinary artists the Oskar-Kokoschka Prize was awarded so far. And today we are honored to make Yoko Ono part of this most distinguished group of prize winners.
A very special welcome, Yoko Ono, to Vienna and to this ceremony!
With its decision, the Oskar Kokoschka-Prize-Jury gives tribute to an outstanding artist, who is not only one of the most important representatives of the Fluxus movement. In particular by her cross-media way of working, combined with the decidedly socio-political positioning of her work, searching for aesthetic innovation with societal impact, Yoko Ono was and still is of highest relevance in the world of the arts.
What is the purpose of an art prize?
To pay and to get paid. - No, I do not talk about money.
The main reason for an art prize like this, is to pay - attention - to Contemporary Art in general and to pay attention to a most important artist and his or her work in particular.
That’s why this prize was founded.
Art - apart from the entertainment-orientated, culinary, marketable mainstream - this kind of art needs attention indeed. Attention which is paid to this kind of the arts is not only important for the artists, it is important for society.
For any society.
Or let me say: for any society, that wants to ward off the danger of getting frozen in the ices of technocracy and indifference.
By the way: Technocracy and indifference.
What happened to our societies?
The idea of progress is reduced to mere economic growth.
Educational institutions are relegated to the role of supplier-firms for the economy.
More and more we get used or forced - to look at evaluation-figures instead of values.
Value becomes degenerated to a de-personalized shareholder-value which is now the main driving force of social and political developments.
Cultural diversity – at all times the engine for aesthetic and intellectual progress – is seen as major reason for social and political conflict – and like a self-fulfilling prophecy cultural diversity increasingly becomes a matter - rather of clashes than of synergies.
If we see an image of the Parthenon temple in Athens – and there is one on our TV-news almost every day – we don’t think of art or architecture, we don’t associate ancient greek culture, greek philosophy or the origin of democracy. What we now identify with an image of the Parthenon is the term: “financial crisis”.
We all know, that images, burned into brains, are more powerful than that, what we recognize as reality.
We all know that at first it is rather the image of a triple A or a triple C in the brains of people than elaborated sophisticated analyses, which creates economic and social effects.
We all know that art is the tool to write images into the peoples’ brains.
Or using the words of Yoko Ono: „You see a chair as it is. But when you burn the chair, you suddenly realize that the chair in your head did not burn or disappear.
The work of an artist is to change the value of things.“
Theodor Adorno told us that, “Art is magic, liberated from the lie of being the truth.”
The true beauty and the power of art lies in its ability to move us emotionally as well as intellectually, create new realities different from those we are used to, motivate us to follow new paths, shape awareness and character, demonstrate interconnections and teach us to employ all the things that surround us in a conscious manner.
A state-sponsored art prize is a strong symbol, showing that art matters to Austrian politics and to our society.
And especially in these crisis-shaken times, in which a lot of important people want to make us believe, that the future of our civilization is depending on the use of the right economic strategies - especially in such days we have to proclaim:
No, it’s not just the economy, stupid!
Especially in our times we have to point out the importance of the arts, of contemporary arts for the development of our societies.
And in this sense the Oskar Kokoschka Prize should not only be a symbol, it should rather be guidance for political action, a political commitment to pro-active encouragement, support and promotion of the Arts –
of art schools and other institutions, working in the fields of contemporary art!
And an awarding ceremony for an Art award like the Oskar Kokoschka Prize is indeed the right moment to emphasize, that art and art institutions always were and remain some of the most powerful breeding grounds for
critical analysis, social utopias,
breeding grounds for the will to contribute to a life - full of meaning, empathy, social consideration, thoughtfulness, innovation and creativity, rather than shallow technocratic indifference.
Walter Benjamin once demanded that: “Art be the governor of Utopia.” And although utopian demands do not constitute reality, they do possess the power to shape reality. Following Benjamin’s claim in our days is not a question of naivety but of courage.
Yoko Ono has influenced so many artists in the last decades. And, which is even more important, she still inspires them and lots of people outside the artistic profession - with courage and positive thinking.
So, thank you Yoko Ono – and congratulations in the name of the jury.
Gerald Bast, Yoko Ono, Valie EXPORT
Gerald Bast, Yoko Ono, Valie EXPORT