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Remarks Honoring the Praemium Imperiale Arts Award Recipients

June 16, 1994

Thank you very much. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Sejima, thank you for your fine words and for giving us the history of the Japan Art Association and its relationship to President Grant and his visit to Japan.

I had a sense of the great tradition of the Imperial Family when the Emperor and Empress were here a couple of nights ago with the First Lady and I, and the Emperor was taken upstairs to my office. And we were talking about American history, and I said, "This desk I use in my office was President Grant's Cabinet table." He said, "Yes, I know. My great-grandfather welcomed him to Japan." I had a desk; he had a family experience. [Laughter]

There are many very distinguished Americans here, including our great former Ambassador to Japan, Senator Mike Mansfield, and Maestro Rostropovich, who was just here to play for the Emperor and Empress. I thank you all for coming. I welcome the members of the diplomatic community and other distinguished citizens of the world. I would like to, in particular, recognize the representatives here of the panel of international advisers of the Japan Art Association, a group of truly distinguished citizens of the world: the mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac, who hosted us recently, welcome, sir; the former Prime Minister of Italy, Amintore Fanfani; the former Prime Minister of Japan, Yasuhiro Nakasone; and the former Prime Minister of Great Britain, Sir Edward Heath, welcome to you all; and Mr. David Rockefeller, our representative. David, thank you for coming.

We have all been enriched by the work of the Japan Art Association, but especially by creating this award for artists who would not otherwise be recognized internationally for their outstanding work. Katherine Anne Porter once wrote that "Art outlives governments, creeds, societies, even civilizations. Art," she wrote, "is what we find again when the ruins are cleared away."

Indeed, in this very room we have an example of art that survived even the burning of the White House, this wonderful Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, which was rescued by the then-First Lady Dolley Madison when the White House was burned during the War of 1812. So it endured, and it's just like it was then, but all the walls here are new, just as all the people here are. If we cultivate art, nurture it, and preserve it, then not only art endures but a part of all of us endures as well.

The Praemium Imperiale Prizes were established to mark the second century of work of the Japan Art Association, recognizing international excellence in painting, sculpture, architecture, music, theater, and film. All the winners are artists of unique accomplishment. The recommendations for the prize recipients are made for the Japan Art Association by the distinguished committee of international advisers, whom I have just recognized. I thank those who are here and those who are not able to come, including the former West German Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt.

Yesterday the names of the five award winners were announced. In October they will be honored in ceremonies in Tokyo, but we wanted to salute them here. And four of the five honorees are with us today.

For painting, this year's winner is the French artist Zao Wou-ki. Where is he? Please stand up. Born in China, educated there and in France, his style brings together East and West in a synthesis of drawing, calligraphy, and traditional Chinese painting that is nothing less than lyrical.

For sculpture, the winner is an American, Richard Serra. A Californian who literally broke the mold and shattered ideas about what sculpture is, his work radiates emotional power on a grand scale and has been an inspiration to an entire new generation of artists.

The winner for architecture is Charles Correa of India who has done work of truly historic significance, showing sensitivity in planning communities in poor countries for genuinely civilized living. His pioneering work has sought to improve the quality of housing for the urban poor, as well as providing a more humane way to live.

For music, the winner is the French composer Henri Dutilleux. His distinctive compositions put into beautiful music the notion of diversity within unity, producing from novel arrays of instruments what the composer himself has so aptly called "the joy of sound."

Finally, in the category of theater and film, the winner goes to someone who could not be with us today, the wonderful British actor and director Sir John Gielgud. His career so far has spanned a mere eight decades, reaching new heights in roles as different as Hamlet on the stage and the butler in service to a tipsy millionaire in the movie "Arthur." He sends his regrets that he could not be with us today, and he has our best wishes.

We give our congratulations to all these winners for many more decades of creative energy. We thank them for stirring our imaginations and our souls. The world is better for their efforts. For all of that, we say thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Ryuzo Sejima, chairman, Japan Art Association; Mstislav Rostropovich, music director, National Symphony Orchestra; and author Katherine Anne Porter.

William J. Clinton, Remarks Honoring the Praemium Imperiale Arts Award Recipients Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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