Senator John Heinz

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The Heinz Awards

2005

Mark di Suvero

Mark di Suvero receives the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities for his sweeping contributions to America's cultural landscape through a daring body of sculpture and an enduring commitment to broaden public venues for the visual arts.

A prolific and intrepid sculptor, Mr. di Suvero's bold, dynamic works have punctuated landscapes and urban environments for close to a half-century. His arresting pieces have consistently drawn critical acclaim, confronting audiences with audacious colors and shapes and mesmerizing even the casual passer-by with subtle energy and intricate proportion.

Born Marco Polo di Suvero in Shanghai, China where his father was stationed as a naval attache for the Italian government, Mr. di Suvero's family came to San Francisco when he was seven. Years later, as a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, his work as a sculptor began to flourish. After transferring to Berkeley, he graduated in 1957 with a degree in philosophy.

A self-trained welder and licensed crane operator for more than 30 years, Mr. di Suvero has overcome both personal and professional challenges. In 1960, while preparing for his first solo exhibition, he was critically injured at his part-time construction job, breaking his back, which kept him off his feet for two years. But the accident was not enough to forestall his artistic development, nor his sheer will to build. With an iron apron covering his lap, he created sculptures that combined wood and steel, mastering a welding technique that he would later employ in his larger pieces.


Over the years, Mr. di Suvero's work has appeared in museums and outdoor public settings around the world. His mostly large-scale sculptures, fashioned from industrial materials and found objects, capture a mainstream modernism, blending the dynamic movement of kinetic art with the impetuosity of Abstract Expressionism.

Throughout his career, Mr. di Suvero has demonstrated a generous commitment to helping artists. After his first exhibition at the Green Gallery in New York City, he co-founded Park Place Gallery, also in New York, a cooperative space where the works of emerging artists were displayed. In 1977 he founded the Athena Foundation to help individual artists realize their visions. In 1986 he established Socrates Sculpture Park on the site of an abandoned landfill in Queens. Under his leadership, the 4.5-acre waterfront site was transformed by a coalition of artists and community members into an open studio and exhibition space for artists and a neighborhood park for local residents.

Mark di Suvero is one of America's most beloved artists, and his indomitable spirit, so much a part of his sculpture, lies at the heart of the selfless contributions he has made to our nation's cultural life.

Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.


UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD

May 2013 - Mark di Suvero will receive a gold medal for the arts from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The gold medals, awarded since 1909, are given to two American citizens each year for an entire body of work, rotating every six years among a pair of artistic disciplines. - The New York Times

March 2011 - Mark di Suvero was among those honored by President Obama with the 2010 National Medal of the Arts at a ceremony at the White House - mlive

June 2006 - di Suvero's Joie de Vivre is placed in the newly-renovated Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. The park, which was damaged in 9/11, underwent a nearly $8 million renovation, and Joie de Vivre, di Suvero's first permanent piece of work in New York City, was given as a gift by Agnes Gund, president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. - Canadian Corporate Newswire

March 2006 - "Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night" opens at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and features a rejuvenated version of di Suvero's original Peace Tower, which was built in 1969 to protest the war in Vietnam. The new tower, and the exhibit in general, voices many strong sentiments opposing the Iraq war and also represents an impending "time of cultural crisis." - The San Diego Union-Tribune

February 2006 - Mark di Suvero donated one of his sculptures to the new $85 million development in Seattle known as Olympic Sculpture Park. The park is "free, fenceless, and in the heart of the city" and includes sculptures from di Suvero along with pieces by Alexander Calder and Ellsworth Kelly - The Associated Press

Speech

5/24/2005 - Acceptance Speech

We, the people of the world who believe in peace and harmony, in health, in symbiosis must act to build a network of peace that is beyond party or nation in order to keep human life on this planet. We need to create a worldwide network of women and men that recognize that peace is necessary for life, for continuation and the sake of our children's children. The great unification of cultures, libraries and museums give us that scope in the space of the great vision that it would be in a united world.

To build a network of peace, we must share information, defuse the organization of powers that aim at destruction and hate. And we can only do this with a creative imagination. The possible destruction of democracy exists in the rise of mediocracy. And the mediocracy is more susceptible to lies than to the truth. The powers of love and the creative imagination are our tools.

We must unify the world. Culture, science and art are the beginning of a world where the exchange of truth and the concept of sharing can build a civilization with the education, with education and the power of self-realization for every person.
Mark di Suvero