Artist Adrian Piper to receive Harvard Arts Medal

Adrian Piper 2014, National Academy of Fine Arts, Oslo.

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Award-winning conceptual artist and philosopher Adrian Margaret Smith Piper, A.M. ’77, Ph.D. ’81, is the recipient of the 2023 Harvard Arts Medal, which will be awarded by Harvard University President Larry Bacow at a pre-recorded ceremony April 26 at 7 p.m. at Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge.

The ceremony, presented by the Office for the Arts at Harvard and the Department of Art, Film, and Visual Studies, is the official opening of Arts First, Harvard’s annual festival showcasing the creativity of students, faculty, staff and university affiliates in the arts. The medal ceremony is followed by a screening of Piper’s film “Passing Beyond Passing” (2004).

“Adrian Piper has offered us an extraordinary opportunity to recognize and celebrate her work directly with our students and faculty in curricular engagement, and with the public during the Arts Medal ceremony. Piper has questioned value systems and challenged us to think more critically about the worlds we inhabit. These interrogations are central to the work we do at the Office for the Arts and at Harvard,”  said Jack Megan, director of the OFA.

Exhibiting internationally for more than 50 years, Piper produces artwork in a variety of traditional and nontraditional media, including photo-text collage, drawing on pre-printed paper, site-specific sculptural installation, digital imagery, performance and sound works. Her artwork is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles and Museum Ludwig, among others.

“Playfully — and with rigor — Adrian Piper invites us to wriggle free from the terms of transaction, compromise and the rush to judgment that so often mediate our relationships with others,” said Tracy K. Smith, Professor of English and of African and African American Studies in the Department of English, Susan. S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at Radcliffe and 2019 recipient of the  Arts Medal.

For her artwork, Piper has received a Guggenheim, AVA, and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. Her work consistently explores the nature of subjecthood and agency, the limits of the self, and the continuities and discontinuities of individual identity.

“In addition to being one of the most consequential, influential and lauded artists of our time, Adrian Piper has been a unique beacon for generations of artists and students, especially those seeking fearlessness and a rigor that bends towards truth,” said Matt Saunders, professor of Art, Film, and Visual Studies. “As an artist, philosopher, teacher, memoirist and engaged citizen, Piper embodies the power of broad and deep inquiry bound by a life of clear integrity.”

The Arts Medal honors a distinguished Harvard or Radcliffe graduate or faculty member who has achieved excellence in the arts and has made a contribution through the arts to education or the public good. Previous Medal recipients include cellist Yo-Yo Ma ’76; film director Mira Nair ’79; authors John Updike ’54, and Colson Whitehead ’91; and songwriter/musician Bonnie Raitt ’72.

Admission to Harvard Arts Medal ceremony is free and open to all on a first-come, first-served basis.