Mary Bauermeister, whose expansive, multidisciplinary practice helped shape the Fluxus movement, is the first winner of a new art prize given by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the artist lives. The prize comes with €25,000 ($28,000).
“The work of Mary Bauermeister has achieved world renown beyond the Rhenish and German context,” Hendrik Wüst, the Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia, said in a statement. “She has always linked art and life and worked transdisciplinary in her artistic practice long before this became a theoretical category of art. Highly committed to promoting young artists, Mary Bauermeister is now what is called an ‘artist’s artist’: an artist who shapes and inspires subsequent generations of artists. With the Art Prize 2021, we would like to pay tribute to this outstanding work that has lasted for decades.”
Born in Frankfurt in 1934, Bauermeister spent one semester at the Ulm School of Design but soon left after she felt that the art she was interested in making wasn’t being supported at the school. She then resumed her studies at the Staatliche Schule für Kunst und Handwerk (State School of Arts and Crafts) in Saarbrücken. In 1956, she moved to Cologne, where she had attended secondary school.
During the early 1960s, Bauermeister’s Cologne studio became the center of an emerging movement that would soon be known as Fluxus. Experimental events and performances by the likes of Nam June Paik, John Cage, and Otto Piene were staged there. Bauermeister’s own art soon achieved acclaim when she had a solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; shortly afterward she moved to New York and found commercial success as an artist. After a decade in the U.S., she returned to Germany, settling in a small town, Rösrath, outside Cologne.
Bauermeister’s art is wide-ranging in both its media and its conceptual concerns. She produces drawings, paintings, installations, mixed-media constructions that deal with science, poetry, nature, mathematics, music, and current social and political issues. Her studio is currently at work on producing a catalogue raisonné with the support of her New York gallery, Michael Rosenfeld, which has represented the artist since 2018. Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the Baltimore Museum of Art, LVR-LandesMuseum in Bonn, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D. C., among other institutions.
The new North Rhine-Westphalia Art Prize will each year be given to a contemporary artist or artist collective with ties to the northwestern German state, which includes major cities like Cologne, Bonn, Düsseldorf, and Essen. The last time the state government gave out such a prize was over 50 years ago.
In his statement, Wüst added, “With the Art Prize of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, we are building on a tradition and at the same time creating something new: the art prize honors a national and international artistic work and makes it more visible.”