Niko the Ikon

Why did these R'n'B videographers win an art prize?

Niko the Ikon picked up one of the inaugural Re Rebaudengo Serpentine Grants for young artists this week

DIScrit 89plus is a joint venture between Simon Castets' and Hans Ulrich Obrist's multi-media young artist project, 89Plus, and the art and fashion website, DIS Magazine. Earlier this week they announced the winners of their inaugural, annual award for emerging talent, which is being given out in association with the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and the Serpentine gallery.

There were two prizes for artists born in 1989 or thereafter "to support the best international creative practices." One winner was chosen by a jury award, and one by a public vote.


Dance (2013) by Riccardo Paratore
Dance (2013) by Riccardo Paratore

The jury award went to the German artist, Riccardo Paratore, who lived in an abandoned shop in Düsseldorf for a year. “During that time four events took place at the space themed Eat, Work, Sleep, and Dance (2012/13),” explain the prize givers. “In each of them a basic need and/or activity was performed and displayed. The events are time-based non-material pieces that take the everyday as a point of departure.”

Sounds like a worthy winner, whose performances, while still quite avant-garde, have recognisable precedents, the work of Tehching Hsieh, Marina Abramovic and co.


drop niko the ikon

The other prize, chosen by a public vote, went to Niko Karamyan and Tierney Finster, who make pastiche R'n'B videos together, under the name of Niko the Ikon. Niko also has a strong Instagram, Twitter and Youtube following. Yet their work brings to mind the Saturday Night Live spoof rap group, Lonely Island, more readily than any obvious art world precedents.

DIScrit 89plus say “Their video productions and performances draw on and explore their own take on life’s simplicities, such as love, nature, spirituality and sense of humour alongside the more complex notions of sex, wealth and identity.”


Niko the ikon two

Do we accept this? Is this the kind of snafu that arises when internet meme exerts undue influence on an open vote? Is this like giving Nam June Paik an award in 1968, Leigh Bowery an award in 1993, or Andrew WK an award in 1999? Or should we just lighten up a bit?

The videos are, admittedly, very well made, pretty funny, and, indeed, do make us think about sex, wealth and identity. So, well done to Niko, Tierney and Riccardo. If you're in London you can find out more about these artists, and others of their generation, at the Serpentine this weekend for the 89plus Marathon which promises to bring “emerging practitioners, born in or after 1989, together with influential thinkers of all generations.”

For more on all this, go here. Keen to find out more about how these winners fit into existing artistic practices?  Then consider our books, Art and Electronic Media and The Artist's Body. And if you're open to something a bit different, check out Wild Art.