In only its second year of existence, the 2011 Lacoste Elysée Prize provided some end of the year censorship drama in the art world. The French luxury goods brand Lacoste removed the Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour from the shortlist of nominees after initially funding her work for the 2011 award. Lacoste only said that Sansour’s work was not in keeping with the theme of the contest, “Joie de Vivre”, but the sudden withdrawal of the artist’s name fueled speculation that they were either opposed to her project, “Nation Estate,” on the lives of Palestinians, or thought it was too politically sensitive.
At first, the Musée de l’Elysée sided with the sponsor but quickly did an about-face and cancelled its agreement with Lacoste to host the €25,000 photography award. And then the details emerged as quoted in ArtInfo:
Having submitted preliminary sketches for her work to the committee in November, and having received a €4,000 working grant from Lacoste, Sansour says the news of her removal came as a complete surprise. This surprise was compounded by a request from the organizers, asking her to sign a statement saying that she withdrew from her nomination “in order to pursue other opportunities.” This she refused outright.
“The process with Lacoste is a strange one,” said Sansour. “As far as I am informed, [they] approved my nomination, despite — the museum told me — raising initial concerns as to my nomination. But over the phone last Wednesday the director of the Musée de l’Elysée told me: ‘Although the work is not directly anti-Israeli, it is too pro-Palestinian for Lacoste to support.’ Yet a joint statement from Lacoste and the museum issued earlier today stated that the reason for my dismissal was that ‘Nation Estate’ did not comply with the theme of the show. This despite the museum having explicitly given all artists carte blanche to interpret this theme and also directly encouraged irony. Also, there has been no mention of my work not complying with the theme at all prior to today’.
In an interview in Hyperallergic, the artist said:
This kind of situation is exactly what I fear. Money ranking over artistic freedom. The fact that a museum initially decides to follow their sponsor’s wish to eliminate an artist is a very scary development, and it is crucial to expose this kind of thing.
Indeed, it is, but there are other issues at play here. The reality is that in a digital world art has the potential to be provocative in ways artists could only imagine in their wildest dreams at the birth of Modern Art in the late 19th century and Modernism in the 1950′s. What once played out in the relatively hermetic confines of the art world – France and Western Europe for Impressionism, New York and Paris for the New York School – now has the potential to immediately engage any segment of the global community. That’s an incredible opportunity for artists, finally placing them on a world stage, and Sansour is a good example of this – an artist born in Jerusalem, studied in Copenhagen, London and New York who does work with political themes that spans video, photography, books and the Web. But this may well mean the end of corporate support – except for the broader (and “safe”) institutional support – fearing that provocative works will engender a reaction somewhere in the global community.
One of the photos in Sansour’s “Nation State” series:
Photo in Sansour