Contemporary Art

Announcing the Inaugural Winners of the Newly-Launched ‘Sotheby’s Prize’

By Sotheby's

S otheby’s today announces the recipients of the recently-launched Sotheby’s Prize. In its first year, the $250,000 prize will be shared between two upcoming exhibitions that explore underrepresented areas of art history:

Many Tongues: Art, Language, and Revolution in the Middle East and South Asia  (Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago)

Pop América, 1965-1975  (Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University)


Each exhibition will receive $125,000. In addition to the two Prize winners, the jury has also commended three remarkable exhibitions with an award of $10,000 each. These are:

Ree Morton: The Plant That Heals May Also Poison at the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (September-December 2018)

Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida (October 2018-April 2019)

Native North America at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas (October 2018-January 2019)

In its first year, the Sotheby’s Prize garnered interest from around the globe; a total of 92 applications from institutions in 15 different countries across North America, South America, Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Asia and Africa were received, covering a remarkably diverse range of artists in terms of geography, race, gender, and sexuality.

The Prize will be officially awarded by the Sotheby’s International Council at a celebratory dinner in New York on November 3.

Co-creator of the Prize and Chairman and Executive Vice President of Sotheby’s Allan Schwartzman says: “Each of the exhibitions we selected is dedicated to artists who, until recently, would have been considered peripheral to the mainstream story of the history of art, each representing a different cultural heritage and perspective. The exhibitions all originate at American museums, but are dedicated to art from around the world.”

Robin Woodhead, Sotheby’s Prize co-creator and Chairman of Sotheby’s International, says: “The decision to split the prize was unanticipated and diverges from the original intention the jury had to honour one inspiring and transformative exhibition. However, as the discussions evolved, it was concluded that two equally worthy landmark exhibitions will likely be propelled to fulfillment by sharing the Prize.”

What is the Sotheby’s Prize?

Launched in May this year, the Sotheby’s Prize is an annual award to support and encourage museums to break new ground. The grant aims to recognise curatorial excellence, and to facilitate exhibitions that explore overlooked or under-represented areas of art history at a time when such projects are becoming increasingly difficult to fund and develop.

This year’s inaugural winners were determined by a jury of esteemed art world figures representing a broad spectrum of cultures and disciplines, namely: Sir Nicholas Serota (Chair, Arts Council England), Connie Butler (Chief Curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles), Okwui Enwezor (Director of the Haus der Kunst museum in Munich), Donna de Salvo (Senior Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York), and Allan Schwartzman (Co-creator of the Prize and Chairman and Executive Vice President of Sotheby’s). For more biographical information on each, please see previous release here.

A Word from the Jury

“Both winners are the product of a younger generation of curatorial leadership, and we are excited to encourage that.” Connie Butler

“It's very hard to fund the research and development of a project – even getting an idea to the point of a proposal can be challenging. This award recognizes and supports this critical, formative stage in the life of an ambitious project.”Donna De Salvo

“In one instance, we are helping to turn a big idea into reality and, in the other instance, we are enabling the fulfillment of a fully-researched concept that now needs to be executed.”Nicholas Serota

“The prize above all is about strong ideas that can be impactful. It is a significant prize for exhibitions which currently do not exist.” Okwui Enwezor

“We were so moved by the choices that we felt there were two exhibitions equally worthy of the Prize. For both of these exhibitions, the funding will make a significant difference between the show happening versus not happening.”Allan Schwartzman

The Winners

Many Tongues: Art, Language, and Revolution in the Middle East and South Asia

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA)


“We want to create art history, not simply reflect it. With this award, the Sotheby's Prize is accomplishing precisely what it sought out to do, bringing to fruition a groundbreaking and timely, even urgent, exhibition which would not have had enough fiscal fuel to fulfill its ambitious goals without these funds. We are grateful to the Sotheby’s Prize for recognizing the importance, now more than ever, of introducing a history of contemporary Middle Eastern and South Asian art to a North American audience.”Madeleine Grynsztejn, Pritzker Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Led by Dr. Omar Kholeif, Manilow Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives, Many Tongues: Art, Language, and Revolution in the Middle East and South Asia will be the most extensive contemporary art exhibition in the Western world to explore the relationship between the Middle East and South Asia. Featuring artists such as Marwan, Saloua Raouda Choucair, Yto Barrada and Nasreen Mohamedi, the exhibition will consider how the revolutionary politics of decolonization have contributed to transcultural exchange between these regions and created a culturally specific visual language.

“This exhibition seeks to map different routes to the contemporary. By taking an in-depth look at one of the richest cultural areas in the world, it truly seeks to place the MCA as a site of original, global art historical research.”Omar Kholeif

Highlighting works that span from 1947 to the present day, the exhibition will trace shared histories of colonisation and migration, and religion and tradition across the Middle East and South Asia. Featuring over 200 works of art in all media, the exhibition will be organized thematically, exploring concepts of abstraction, poetry, form, architecture, landscape, memory, archives, and media.

Many Tongues will be exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago from October 26, 2019 to April 4, 2020.

The Jurors’ Take

“Art history is made by asking hard questions. This exhibition explores a parallel history unfamiliar to most Americans, and has the capacity to cause us to rethink a larger history of the post-war era.” Donna De Salvo

“This is a forward-looking exhibition that will explore completely new territory in terms of understanding modernism as a global phenomenon.”Connie Butler

“This exhibition is about the development of these forms of modernism in a post-Colonial era and in post-Colonial territories. Both components of this exhibition will reflect the revolution that took place in the Middle East and in South Asia post-independence.”Nicholas Serota

“This exhibition… promises to tell the story of parallel developments of postwar modern art in two regions of the world, nearby to one another but of very different cultures, whose contributions to art history have yet to be examined and understood.”Allan Schwartzman


Pop América, 1965-1975

Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University

“We are incredibly honored to be awarded the coveted Sotheby’s Prize for our exhibition, which has been years in the making and reflects groundbreaking research by guest curator and Duke professor Esther Gabara. As the first exhibition to present a vision of Pop in the American continent as a whole, Pop América makes a critical contribution to understanding this artistic period and Latin America’s rich artistic heritage. At the same time, this will also be the first exhibition to consider Pop art throughout the Americas as an intentional strategy for communicating sensitive, politically challenging content.”Sarah Schroth, Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University


Despite the wide appeal of Pop art’s engaging imagery, the broader public remains unaware of the participation and significant contribution of Latin American and Latino/a artists working at the same time and alongside their U.S. and European counterparts. As the first exhibition to present a hemispheric vision of Pop, Pop América will make a timely and critical contribution to a more complete understanding of this artistic period.

Featuring nearly 100 objects, the exhibition will present a network of Latino/a and Latin American Pop artists connecting Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico and the United States, introducing new historical frameworks that will reshape debates over Pop’s political neutrality, social inclusiveness, and aesthetic innovations in the U.S.

The artists selected create a vital dialogue that crosses national borders, and include Judith Baca, Luis Cruz Azaceta, Jorge de la Vega, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein, among others. United by the common use of Pop’s rich visual strategies, the artists made bold contributions to conceptualism, performance, and new media art, as well as social protest, justice movements, and debates about freedom.

Opening in autumn 2018, the 50th anniversary of 1968 and a landmark year of social unrest, this exhibition will illustrate a time of great sociopolitical change. Across the Americas, artists involved in student, labor, and ethnic movements used Pop to resist dictatorships in Brazil and Argentina, to picture the utopia of the Cuban Revolution, to criticise aggressive state modernisation and violence in Mexico and Colombia, and to battle for civil rights in the United States.

Pop América will open in October 2018 at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas, which is partnering with the Nasher Museum to stage the exhibition. It will open at the Nasher Museum between February and July 2019 before heading to the Block Museum at Northwest University in Evanston, Illinois between September 2019 and January 2020.

The Jurors’ Take

“There has long been an awareness that Pop art is not simply a British and American phenomenon. This was reinforced by two recent exhibitions at Tate Modern and the Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, which widened our eyes to the broader scope of Pop art. This show focuses precisely on Latin American Pop art, which had a very strong activist and political dimension. We have great confidence in the quality of the research and curatorial team at the Nasher and that their work will lead to an authoritative exhibition and publication.”Nicholas Serota

“What this show does is to give a very thorough and fully-researched examination of how a dominant style, that was seemingly playful and comic, was able to be utilized to make strong political statements in nations where it was not possible to do so directly. Latin American artists of the late 60s and early 70s were interested in taking Pop and subverting it. The worldwide spread of Pop Art did not always result in what has heretofore been viewed as stylistically derivative art, but instead was an intentional, radical and effective method of communicating potent forbidden political viewpoints in totalitarian nations under the veil of cartoonish art.”Allan Schwartzman


Allan Schwartzman says: “The whole field was very strong and so, through the prize and commendations, we wanted to recognize the breadth and depth of ambitious exhibition research taking place. In these instances, the amount of money we are awarding to each of the commended applications is enough to either lift or launch the core thinking that will form the exhibition and catalogue.”


Ree Morton: The Plant That Heals May Also Poison

Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia


This will be the first American retrospective in over 35 years of an important and singularly potent artist who is virtually unknown to today’s audiences, but whose work truly changed the course of art history.

“Ree Morton’s work has held my attention for many decades, and the pursuit of a full trajectory of her production has been maddeningly elusive. I am, thus, extremely grateful to the Sotheby’s Prize jurors for commending us, and for helping to make this exhibition a reality. Curated by Kate Kraczon, ICA’s Laporte Associate Curator, the exhibition eloquently extends ICA’s commitment to advanced scholarship and exposure for under-represented artists.”Amy Sadao, Daniel W. Dietrich, II Director

Connie Butler says: “Ree Morton is one of those rare artists who intersects with a number of important histories – including Feminist art, the great tradition of American sculpture and the decorative – in ways that are materially adventurous. She is, to some extent, a predecessor of a multi-media installation practice. Ree is one of the early innovators of that kind of approach to space and material.”

Ree Morton: The Plant That Heals May Also Poison will be exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia from September-December 2018.

William Artis, A Mother’s Love, 1963. Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries.


Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman

Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida

This retrospective will contextualise a very important but little-known African American artist, who taught and mentored many of the most important and influential African American artists of the Harlem Renaissance.

“Even though her career led her north, Augusta Savage was born in relative proximity to our Museum and her passion for sculpture developed here, creating animal figures in the area’s clay pits as a child. The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens feels this connection deeply, and we are delighted to have been commended by the Sotheby’s Prize jury. This exhibition will shed light on the artistic output of a largely under-recognized artist, contextualizing Savage’s pioneering spirit in the face of adversity, and assessing her immeasurable impact on American art.”Holly Keris, Chief Operating Officer & Chief Curator

Donna De Salvo says: “Her work is not as widely known as it needs to be. With this exhibition, the role of the artist and activist Augusta Savage – as both artist and teacher of some of the greatest African-American artists of the 20th century, including Norman Lewis, Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden – is given its rightful place in the history of American Art, and particularly that of the Harlem Renaissance.”

Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman will be exhibited at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida from October 2018-April 2019.


Native North America

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas

Kent Monkman, History is Painted by the Victors, 2013. Denver Art Museum, Gift from Vicki and Kent Logan to the Collection of the Denver Art Museum. Loan pending.

Native North America will be the first ever major survey of the artistic achievements of Native American artists of the 20th-century.

“We applaud Sotheby’s and their exceptional jury for the launch of the annual Sotheby’s Prize. We are honored to be recognized for Native North America, which is the first exhibition to chart the development of contemporary Indigenous art from the U.S. and Canada—the support of Sotheby’s helps us create these kind of ground-breaking shows that provide greater access to meaningful art experiences.”Rod Bigelow, Crystal Bridges Executive Director and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer

Nicholas Serota says: “This exhibition will, we believe, become a roadmap. It will be a turning point in our understanding of this field.”

Native North America will be exhibited at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas from October 2018-January 2019. For more information, visit:


This exhibition was co-organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, and the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas.


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