Octavie Modert, Discours à l'occasion de la remise du 3e prix Edward Steichen, Luxembourg

Your Royal Highness,
Your presence tonight is testimony of Your curiosity and Your desire to know more about the contemporary creation in the field of the Arts. I would like to express our utmost appreciation for Your interest and involvement in the cultural life of our country.

Your Royal Highness,
Dear Ariana Stahmer and dear Marie-Jo Lafontaine,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

It is the third time already that we do allocate the Edward Steichen Award Luxembourg.

The many faces, known and unknown, I see gathered here tonight are proof to the fact that our prize has taken off and is finding its cruising speed. In a few moments, the well-known artist Marie-Jo Lafontaine will announce the name of the award winner. She is an artist who has shown how to make an impact in the art world and we would like to thank her for her presence and for the advice and inspiration she will be offering our new laureate.

Our prize is named after Edward Steichen and has been created some forty years after his death with the purpose to establish new connections for Luxembourg and its art community. Even though he could not know of it, I am confident that he would have been very happy to give his personal approval. May I take once again this opportunity to thank Joanna Steichen, Francesca Calderone-Steichen, Ariana Stahmer and the other members of the Steichen-family for their support.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The purpose of art is to add to this world: To add richness and enlightenment to it. Not only does creation through art belong to life, but it actually breathes life into our environment. Art is about exploring, discovering and designing. Art is about the brain and the heart, reason and emotions, and about expressing new insights into our lives and realities. And art is a media through which every single artist is empowered to communicate with his contemporaries and also with the future generations, all the more for the more successful and the more gifted ones among them.

Edward Steichen was well aware of the power of media. He contributed to that power, and his ambition has constantly been to establish photography as a new media among the arts. Hence his endeavours to help photography to reach a larger and larger public, to organise exhibitions together with Alfred Stieglitz, to practise photography in the context of the two world wars, to use photography in the field of advertising and fashion, to create impressive portraits, and finally to stage many impressive exhibitions during his time at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

As most of you know, the American government, Edward Steichen himself, as well as the Museum of Modern Art in New York have been very helpful to Luxembourg in creating a permanent home for two of these exhibitions: The Family of Man and The Bitter Years.

The process to provide a permanent exhibition space for The Bitter Years is now well engaged and we look forward to its opening in the former ‘Water tower’, a landmark building in the immediate neighbourhood of the C.N.A., the Centre National de l’Audiovisuel in Dudelange.

We may assume that The Bitter Years were for Edward Steichen more than an exhibition on a particularly painful episode of the American economy and history. In the hardship faced by so many Americans, he – himself an Immigrant to the US - probably recognized the challenges faced by the immigrants to the United States, be these immigrants for economic or other reasons. His own family had left Luxembourg in the last quarter of the 19th century, and was given a new home in the Middle West with tens of thousands of other Luxembourg families.

Luxembourg is very grateful to the United States of America and the many other instances of American cooperation with Luxembourg. We know that many of those Americans who may claim Luxembourg ancestors are showing - still today - their attachment to the home of their ancestors, and we try to foster their emotional links with our country.

The exhibition The Family of Man has been on show in Luxembourg for a long time now and has been seen at the Château de Clervaux by close to 300,000 visitors over the years (a huge number, compared to the less than half a million inhabitants of our country). This exhibition will undergo shortly an indispensable process of renovation and after a pause, it will be on show again and our aim is to allow for an even better presentation. Indeed, my purpose today is also to reassure those who had questions in this context: don’t be unsettled, we know that this great Exhibition is a great heritage, listed moreover in Unesco’s Heritage lists, and we know just as well that in culture and art nothing is static but society is evolving and the presentation of an exhibition by sure requires from time to time a changing and needs an evolution.

Among the many iconic images of this exhibition, it seems therefore appropriate to mention today one image in particular: the mushroom cloud created by the explosion of a weapon of mass destruction! To the aging Edward Steichen and to his contemporaries, the potential use of such weapons created an anguish of such depth that it was haunting public opinions on the five continents. He wanted to warn against the danger of a catastrophe even worse than the two world wars he had seen in his lifetime. Hence his wish to highlight the fear shared all over the world by millions of women, and men, for a life in secure conditions and filled with warmth.

This message of brotherhood between human beings, of a universal family instead of mutual assured destruction is still relevant even though the cold war and the Manichean look at world affairs widely spread in those days is now a far distant souvenir. Mankind has had the wisdom to avoid Armageddon. At least so far! But the threat of the proliferation of nuclear weapons has not vanished, it is still very high on the international agenda.

Weapons of mass destruction have been handled through negotiations and the creations of multilateral structures intended to control and progressively eliminate this threat. We strongly hope that this path will be further pursued and deepened. I hope that my colleague in charge of foreign affairs does not mind if I take up here his position on that important issue. After all I would certainly not mind if he were to mention the importance of culture in international relations.

In conclusion of these developments, let me tell you that the two sites - The Bitter Years in Dudelange as well as The Family of Man in Clervaux - will open or reopen in early summer 2012, after three years of hard work by us, our cultural institutions and in collaboration with the architects and specialists all over the world. The event will demonstrate how Luxembourg has learned to preserve the historical collections of one of its famous sons in the world in a very professional way. This event will also give us the opportunity to learn much more about the origins and the specialities of the two shows in a contemporary context.

Edward Steichen’s endeavours have shown that artists have not shied away from their responsibilities as citizens involved in their societies. Also in this respect Steichen remains a good example to follow for contemporary young artists. Still today, an artist’s ambition is naturally to translate beauty into his work, but this does certainly not preclude many of the artists to look closely at the societies in which they live, and to provide a new appreciation of the realities around them.

Edward Steichen’s work has also been remarkable by the fact that he has helped to establish the use of technology in the service of the Arts. Photography is an artistic media which is much more dependent on technical means than classical painting or sculpture, and it owes much less to the human hand. This is a trend which has been reinforced continuously during the 20th Century and is strongly present in the work of the artists of the 21st Century:

In just a few moments, we will honour one of them and have the opportunity to see the work of this young artist. We will be in a position to check whether the link between the generation of Edward Steichen, between Marie-Jo Lafontaine and the many remarkable artists currently exhibiting in the galleries in Luxembourg, Europe, the United States and elsewhere, and the numerous young and gifted talents we are about to discover, is still working. Such a link should exist and in my eyes, it does exist.

I am very confident that the urge to look again and more closely at the beings and the environment around us is going to be made visible once more. The bond between our creators and us is vital, and thanks to our artists we breathe more freely and we make a better use of our intelligence.

I thank you for your attention and I would now like to invite Mrs Marie-Jo Lafontaine to join me on the stage.

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