Untitled (2016) by Cindy Sherman. Image courtesy of Metro Pictures

Why Cindy Sherman has just won a painting prize

The US fine-art photographer will be 2016's recipient of Japan's Praemium Imperiale prize in the painting category

Singling the US photographer Cindy Sherman for a painting award sounds like a bit of category error. Sherman’s work may hang well alongside fine oil paintings yet her role-playing self-portraiture is always created with a camera, not a brush. However, Sherman’s choice for Japan’s Praemium Imperiale painting prize a few days ago isn’t without precedent.

Since 1989, the Japanese state has been awarding its medals and honorariums to pioneers in a range of artistic fields, including film and theatre, sculpture, architecture and music. Photography and video artists, although less prominent 27 years ago, have found a place within the prize’s painting category, with Hiroshi Sugimoto and Bill Viola receiving the accolade in recent years, alongside more conventional choices, such as Gerhard Richter, Willem de Kooning and Cy Twombly.


Sherman at work in Manhattan. Image courtesy of Preamium Imperiale
Sherman at work in Manhattan. Image courtesy of Preamium Imperiale

Sherman, whose painting award was announced last Tuesday, joins the director Martin Scorsese, the violinist Gidon Kreme, the architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha and the sculptor Annette Messager among this years’ laureates, singled out "for their achievements, for the impact they have had internationally on the arts, and for their role in enriching the global community."

She will receive ¥15 million ($145,000) and her medal at a prize-giving ceremony in Tokyo on 18 October. To find out more about this important artist’s work order a copy of our Phaidon Focus book, and for more on photography's place within the gallery system get Photography Today.