Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami this year became the first Islamic recipient of the Praemium Imperiale, a prize awarded by the Japan Art Association.
In another first this year, Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer became the first Latin American recipient of the prize. Niemeyer, who is still active at the age of 96, is also the oldest recipient thus far.
The other recipients of the Praemium Imperiale for 2004 were German painter Georg Baselitz, U.S. sculptor Bruce Nauman and Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki.
In announcing the names of the recipients, former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, one of the international advisers for the nomination committees, voiced hope that the inclusion of Kiarostami will help bridge the schism between the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.
The prize was established to mark the centennial of the Japan Art Association, with the first awards given in 1989. The laureates each receive an honorarium of 15 million yen.
Kiarostami, 63, directed films such as “Where is My Friend’s House?” “Close-up,” “Life and Nothing More,” and “Through the Olive Trees.” While his works deal with the realities and dreams of Iranian people and Persian philosophy, they are said to have universal appeal. His recent films include “ABC Africa” and “ten.”
Most of his films do not feature traditional plot resolutions, with Kiarostami saying that the ending of one movie becomes the starting point for the next.
Niemeyer, a modernist, has designed important buildings in Brasilia. Moreover, he had earlier designed the current United Nations headquarters building, together with France’s Le Corbusier.
His pursuit of great architecture is linked to the traditions of his native land, resulting in new forms and architectural lyricism.
Penderecki, 70, was a pioneer in the use of tone clusters (dissonant groups of tones, each having a slightly different pitch from the others) and the percussive use of string instruments.
He gained fame with such compositions as “Anaklasis” (1960), “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” (1959-1961) and “Passion According to St. Luke” (1962).
Having been brought up during the Nazi occupation, he is known for his efforts to develop a musical language that would communicate his sense of postwar alienation and horror at the crimes of the Holocaust and the Cold War, and his hope for the future.
Nauman, 62, considered a leader in modern art since the 1960s, has created a far-ranging body of work that stresses meaning over form. He created performance-based works that investigate the most basic physical emotions and psychological states of human beings.
One of his works is “100 Live and Die,” in which numerous neon tubes are used to express words related to life and death.
Baselitz, 65, was born in East Germany and moved to West Berlin at the age of 20. He is regarded as one of Germany’s foremost artists. In his early works, he depicted the mutilated bodies of animals and humans, with the body parts in question slightly dislodged from each other.
In 1969, he developed “upside down” paintings in an attempt to avoid situations in which his work is labeled with one definitive meaning.
He said his main interest lies in technique, while his artistic imagination draws on a large inventory of Western and non-Western art.
The Japan Art Association has also decided to give a 5 million yen grant to the Young Sound Forum of Central Europe, which each year organizes an orchestra featuring young musicians from Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland for a concert tour.