Tarek Atoui wins $200,000 Suzanne Deal Booth/FLAG Art Foundation Prize

With a catalog and a solo exhibition at the Contemporary Austin and at the FLAG in New York, the prize is worth $800,000, one of the art world's largest for a single artist


Lebanese sound artist and composer Tarek Atoui is the winner of the 2022 Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize.

Atoui will receive a $200,000 unrestricted cash award and he will present a solo exhibition premiering in Austin in spring 2022 at the Contemporary’s downtown venue, the Jones Center.

In fall 2022, the exhibition will head to the FLAG Art Foundation in New York. In addition to the exhibition and monetary award, the prize includes a scholarly exhibition catalog and public programming around the exhibitions at both venues.

Together with value of the two exhibitions and catalog, the Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize is worth $800,000 and is one of the art world’s largest awards to a single artist.

Atoui, who was born in Beirut and now lives in Paris, France, probes the medium of sound. He collaborates with musicians, composers, designers, and instrument makers, to co-create experimental instruments, sound assemblages and dynamic installations.

“I’m really honored to be the recipient of this award, especially at this moment,” Atoui said a phone interview. With the social distancing, travel restrictions, and most live performances halted because of the coronavirus pandemic, Atoui said he finds the prize an homage to collaboration and improvisation.

“I start from human encounters to find the pulse of a city on the sound and music level,” Atoui said. “I want my work to be about us being together, about sharing the same sound.”

Though Atoui has been to Marfa to participate in the Marfa Sounding performance series, he has yet to visit Austin, though he is very intrigued, though, by the city’s profile as a music city.

“I’m interested in all the conditions that music production takes (in Austin),” he said. “I’m curious to understand where musicians perform, where they rehearse, how they create, what’s the relation to the art scene, and how the art scene and music scene communicate. Those dynamics would be a very good starting point for me.”

Much of Atoui’s artistic practice is rooted in research and intense periods of time in different place. In October, for example, Atoui will open an exhibition at the Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany, centered around his ongoing project “I/E” that captures the sounds of harbors and harbor cities in field recordings made over months of roaming the city.

Tarek Atoui, The Reverse Collection, 2016. Performance view, Tate Modern, London, UK, 2016. Artwork © Tarek Atoui. Image courtesy the artist. Photograph by Thierry Bal.
A performance view of “The Reverse Collection,” a 2016 project by Tarek Atoui. tate Modern, London,
UK, 2016. Artwork © Tarek Atoui. Image courtesy the artist. Photograph by Thierry Bal.

After he found ancient instruments in storage of an ethnological museum in Berlin, Atoui convince museum officials to let musician play the unidentified instruments for a recording. From that recording he asked instrument makers create new instruments that would makes the same sounds. Then, at London’s Tate Modern, Atoui invited musicians to play a daily series of improvisational performances which then culminated in performances of the resulting compositions.

The 2022 Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize exhibitions will be the Atoui’s first solo museum exhibitions in Texas and in New York.

Previous winners of the biennial prize are Rodney McMillan in 2018, and Nicole Eisenmann, whose exhibition “Sturm and Drang,” which opened in February, is still installed. at the Contemporary’s Jones Center. (The Jones Center remains closed.)

Atoui was selected by an independent advisory committee of curators and art historians from the U.S. and Great Britain. Led by Heather Pesanti, chief curator & director of curatorial affairs at the Contemporary Austin, the advisory committee included Darby English, professor, Department of Art History, University of Chicago; Michael Govan, CEO and director, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Ingrid Schaffner, curator, the Chinati Foundation; and Catherine Wood, senior curator, International Art (Performance), Tate Modern; along with institutional advisor Stephanie Roach, Director of The FLAG Art Foundation.

“We are thrilled with the advisory committee’s selection of Tarek Atoui,” said Pesanti. “In such unprecedented times the museum is grateful to have the opportunity to support Atoui and his collaborators as they continue to create different ways of experiencing art and sound to several communities.”

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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