This, the 101st issue of In Other Words, was inspired by conversations with Okwui Enwezor about what success looks like and so it seems poignant that it is now also a tribute to him.
Okwui died on 15 March, aged 55, after a three-year struggle with a cancer that did not steal his vigor or drive until the very end. He had an unmatched ability to spark new thought in other people. He began his career as a writer and would, for the rest of his life, use language with the precision and force of a poet.
He brought new concepts and overlooked art to our attention, pushing through doors that were closed to him and, in doing so, clearing space for others to follow. Okwui maintained a position of challenge and embrace: pushing the art world to be more dynamic and inclusive while enabling others to believe in the possibility of those ideals.
His was a brilliant mind and he was unafraid to speak it. A frank discussion between Okwui and In Other Words editor Charlotte Burns about the value of museums (“Voodoo Economics and Populism“) led to a larger story (“Money, Morals and Metrics“), which in turn engendered an unprecedented response—65 pages of interviews—from museum directors and curators around the world about how they measure institutional success. Such was the genius of Okwui: he demanded deeper thinking from all of us.
The passing of Okwui is a great loss to us and to the entire field of contemporary art and art history. His pioneering work has been central to defining the critical issues of art in our time. He curated some of the most important, profound, poetic and influential exhibitions of the past 30 years. His work indeed changed the way the world looks at art, the art it looks at—and our idea of the potential of art for transforming human awareness.
I am grateful for his invaluable contributions to two major awards that we have helped create over the past few years: the Sotheby’s Prize and the Nomura Art Award. His wisdom, ideals, insights and values helped form the ethos of both prizes, shaping their vision for future generations, and his clarity more than once guided the jurors to new understandings of specific candidates. We have gained immeasurably from his commitment and wisdom, from his brilliance of mind and generosity of spirit.