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2009 Alpert Award Winners Unveiled as Fellowship Program Reaches 15-Year Mark

Valencia, Calif., May 5--The Herb Alpert Foundation and California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) today announced the recipients of the 2009 Alpert Award in the Arts. The five winners of the prestigious fellowships are:

  • Artist Paul Chan, of Brooklyn, N.Y., in the film/video category;
  • Writer, composer, performer and director Rinde Eckert, of Nyack, N.Y., in theatre;
  • Composer, guitarist, violist and CalArts alumnus John King (Music BFA 76), of New York, N.Y., in music;
  • Artist Paul Pfeiffer, of New York, N.Y., in the visual art category; and
  • Choreographer and performer Reggie Wilson, of Brooklyn, N.Y., in dance.

Now in its 15th year, the annual Alpert Award in the Arts provides five unrestricted $75,000 grants to five independent artists working in the fields of dance, film/video, music, theater and visual art.

Adjudicated by three-member panels of noted artists and arts professionals in each of the five categories, the Alpert Awards were conceived to reward creative experimenters who are challenging and transforming art, their respective disciplines, and society. The awards also provide vital financial support to each artist at a key juncture in his or her creative development.

Initiated and funded by The Herb Alpert Foundation, the awards have been administered by CalArts, which was selected by the foundation based on a shared vision of the transformative power of the arts.

"All of this year's recipients represent the essence of the Alpert Award in the Arts," said Herb Alpert. "They take aesthetic, intellectual and political risks. They challenge worn-out conventions, and they're unafraid of the unknown. Particularly at this time of so much turbulence, and possibility, we need them to keep on opening up the doors."

"The Herb Alpert Foundation is delighted to be able to celebrate these five unique artists whose contributions enrich us all and add to an important legacy," said Foundation President Rona Sebastian. "We are reminded that with creative energy, courage, freedom of thought, and hard work, artists really can have a powerful impact."

CalArts President Steven D. Lavine added: "The CalArts community congratulates Paul Chan, Rinde Eckert, Paul Pfeiffer, Reggie Wilson and our own Music alumnus John King. Under these difficult economic conditions, we at CalArts are more pleased than previous years to be part of the process of getting funding, time and opportunity in the hands of these gifted artists. We look forward to welcoming all five to our campus for the residency portion of their fellowships."

"Artist and filmmaker Paul Chan is being honored for his groundbreaking, risk-taking art and engagement in the world," explained Alpert Award Director Irene Borger. "Theatre artist Rinde Eckert is being recognized for his expansive aesthetic, transfixing musicality, and the vitality and urgency of his texts," she continued. "The music panel selected composer, guitarist and violist John King for his originality, conviction and control of his medium and materials while artist Paul Pfeiffer is being given the prize for his compelling, complex investigations of mass media, and extraordinary use of film. Finally, choreographer Reggie Wilson was selected for his pioneering combination of aesthetic and political values, and forward work in bringing together multiple cultures."

Since the inception of the Alpert Award in the Arts, the 70 past recipients have gone on to further recognition, producing significant and acclaimed works and receiving major cultural prizes and awards, proving that the Alpert Awards identify important mid-career artists who are effecting change not just in their métiers but across the larger cultural landscape.

The 2009 Alpert Award in the Arts Recipients

Paul Chan
While Paul Chan sees the language of art as distinct from the language of politics, that Chan chose to mount a production of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot out of doors, at night, in the devastated landscape of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, tells you something about his activism, his engagement with desolation, and his trust and distrust of language. "Art, if you do it right," he has said, "clears the mind so that something new can happen." Keeping words to a minimum in his video essay Baghdad in No Particular Order, shot in that city before the invasion, with no voice-over telling you what you are seeing on the screen, creates the space for not-knowing. The attempt? To create "a leap that disengages what we know and engages us in what we don't." The forms? Charcoal drawings, video installation, computer animation, web projects. Some investigations? Simulated light and shadow cascading through a window. Biggie Smalls. Pasolini. Henry Darger. Faith. Dissolution. Uncertainty. The instruments? Philosophy, politics, aesthetics, and cunning. In short, a menagerie of strategies unleashed so that we might imagine things outside of ourselves. Chan's term: "empathetic estrangement."

Rinde Eckert
Rinde Eckert concerns himself with big ideas: ethics, god, idealism, national identity, the elusiveness of faith. And how we shape our mythos and our romantic notions. With a virtuosic command of gesture, language and song, writer, composer, librettist, musician, performer, and director--total theater artist--Rinde Eckert moves beyond the boundaries of what a "play," a "dance piece," an "opera" or "musical" might be, in the service of grappling with complex issues. Eckert makes solo work, chamber pieces, and through-composed operas with larger casts, and has long collaborated with other artmakers, including choreographer Margaret Jenkins, composers Steven Mackey and Paul Dresher, directors Robert Woodruff and David Schweizer, and the new music ensemble Eighth Blackbird. Building a link between ideas and people, as between theater and science, he's even bringing together a university drama department and medical school. Thinkers and writers, including W.B. Yeats, Dante, Homer, and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, frequently inspire Eckert's musical and literary motifs. Studying Melville's Moby Dick led to his best-known work, And God Created Great Whales. And who peoples his work? A composer trying to write an opera while losing his memory. A man who commits suicide sailing solo around the world. A Mafia accountant with a change of heart. Eckert describes many of his characters as "little men with big ideas whose consequences of their hubris are often disastrous." Sometimes tragic and austere, sometimes broadly comedic, entirely grounded by presence, Eckert's work is alchemical: moving from rumination and distillation to hard-won illumination, or its lack.

John King

Rooted in 20th-century experimental music, John King has written media operas for full orchestras and voice, instrumental solos, string quartets, and mixed chamber works with live electronics. Neither "sampling" nor "quoting," King draws from both classical and vernacular music traditions, synthesizing the conceptual with the avant-garde. He has received commissions from Kronos and Ethel, as well as from choreographers, ranging from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company to the Stuttgart Ballet. King has also composed an hourlong suite of pieces for what he calls his Extreme Guitar Orchestra, which has been performed throughout Europe and across America. Underneath his plasticity lays a singular ethos: King celebrates the ineluctable mutability of the audible. His music, often structurally open, braids the written with the improvisational, spontaneity with indeterminacy, coalescing live and processed sound and, at times, allows performers unusual individual freedom in performance. Using the score as a temporal guidepost, a singer's voice accompanied by full orchestra in one performance could, with the structure randomly altered, be accompanied by a solo flute at another; players' heartbeats could determine multiple tempii. Whether in imaginative concert with Alain Robbe-Grillet, Stéphane Mallarmé or Bertolt Brecht, you might think of King's work as intense, visceral dialogue.

Paul Pfeiffer
Borrowing footage from television, movies, and sports events that serve as raw material and building blocks for his work, Paul Pfeiffer creates video, sculpture and installations. Using iconic images of spectacles and celebrities, he plays with the canonization of memory and history, as in a digitally erased Marilyn Monroe or ghostly image of Muhammad Ali fighting in the ring and asks viewers to question their own spectatorship and desire. Informed by, among others, Francis Bacon, Warhol, and DaVinci's Vitruvian Man, his large-scale pieces wrestle with notions of power while the miniature works evoke intimacy. In a recent colossal production, he recorded a hired crowd of 1,000 men to recreate the sounds of 100,000 fans cheering during a World Cup match. In all of his work, from a lush sunrise and sunset shot, and shown, in real time, to a 24-hour a day, 75-day piece, where New York commuters could watch a video of a nest full of eggs hatching and then growing into chickens, Pfeiffer is saying: pay attention. One critic summed up his body of work, "One can feel the deepening of love--and the holes left open by need."

Reggie Wilson
Choreographer Reggie Wilson's ongoing, in-depth field research and extensive travels is a model of a 21st-century artist working in a global context. Wilson's travels from Zimbabwe, Senegal and Congo-Brazzaville to Trinidad and Tobago and the Mississippi Delta have led him to question accepted concepts of time, space and dynamics, and to continued collaborations with dancers throughout the world. This global context helps him distill and transform ritual and social dance and vocal forms (such as Chicago-style Stepping, Pantsula, the Big Apple, field hollers, shouts...), combining them with post-modern task-based structures, contemporary movement techniques, and the movement languages and gestures of Africans in the Diaspora to create what he calls "Post-African/Neo HooDoo Modern Dance." By experimenting with the existing tension and energies between tradition and innovation, he comes face-to-face with new methods of mining connections and disconnections in the spread of dance beyond the western avant-garde. Wilson sees performance as a site of transcendence; building and manipulating energy in a space is a core aesthetic practice. Following a multiyear exchange and collaboration with the Senegal-based Congolese choreographer Andréya Ouamba, Wilson will premiere The Good Dance-dakar/brooklyn in the fall.

The Herb Alpert Foundation envisions a world in which all young people are blessed with opportunities that allow them to reach their potential and lead productive and fulfilling lives. Over the past few years, the Foundation has focused on core areas: "The Arts," a broad category that includes arts education, a focus on jazz, and support to professionals. This also includes programs that seek to use the arts to help meet the needs of underserved youth and to help build competencies that will enable them to become successful adults. The other core area is "Compassion and Well-Being," which celebrates the positive aspects of human psychology and seeks to bring more compassion and compassionate behavior to our society.

CalArts is recognized internationally as a leading laboratory for the visual, performing, media and literary arts. Housing six schools--Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music, and Theater--CalArts educates professional artists in an intensive learning environment founded on artmaking excellence, creative experimentation, cross-pollination among diverse artistic disciplines, and a broad context of social and cultural understanding. CalArts also operates the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) in the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex in downtown Los Angeles.

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For hi-res images please email Denise Nelson.

Last edited by Smith on Aug 25, 2010
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