Announcing the Winners of the 2019 Sotheby's Prize

By Joe Dunning

S otheby’s today announced the winners of the 2019 Sotheby’s Prize, which, in its third year, continues to celebrate curatorial excellence and champion the work of innovative institutions who strive to break new ground by exploring overlooked or under-represented areas of art history.

Museu de Arte de SÃO Paulo Assis Chateaubriand – Histórias indigenas

The jury decided that the $250,000 award should be shared between two innovative exhibition projects in São Paulo, Brazil. The ground-breaking exhibition entitled OPY sees three different institutions, Pinacoteca, Casa do Povo and Kalipety – a state museum, a cultural centre and a house of prayer – join forces to explore the place of the indigenous in Brazilian culture; and an exhibition at the Museu de Arte De São Paulo (MASP) will present the art and visual culture of different indigenous histories from across the world, bringing together works of different mediums, origins and periods, from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century.

Allan Schwartzman, co-creator of the Prize and Chairman and Executive Vice President of Sotheby’s said: “In recognising these projects, we hope to embrace a city and a country grappling with its biggest and most timely issues – issues that are equally relevant to the rest of the world.”

Kalipety Village Prayer House. Photo Alicia Esteves .

In addition to the main Prize, a sum of $10,000 is also awarded to a number of institutions whose exhibitions and initiatives are judged by the jury panel to be inspiring and transformative: Newberry Library for Renaissance Invention: Stradanus’s Nova Reperta (opening April 2020); the Barbican Centre for Michael Clark (opening June 2020); Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for The Dirty South: The Southern Impulse in Art, Material and Sonic Culture (opening April 2021); Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) for The Art of Cruelty (opening December 2021); and Fisk University Galleries for African Modernism in America, 1947-1967 (opening October 2022).

Launched in May 2017, the Sotheby’s Prize offers an annual sum of up to $250,000 to recognise curatorial excellence and help facilitate exhibitions that challenge our understanding of art today. The Prize is awarded by a jury consisting of Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair of Arts Council England; Connie Butler, Chief Curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles; Donna de Salvo, former Senior Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; Emilie Gordenker, Director of Mauritshuis in The Hague, Director Designate of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam; and Allan Schwartzman, co-creator of the Prize and Chairman and Executive Vice President of Sotheby’s.


Casa do Povo | Pinacoteca | Kalipety – OPY (working title)

Curated by: Naine Terena (independent curator) Benjamin Seroussi (Director, Casa do Povo) Jera Guarani (Leader, Kalipety) Jochen Volz (General Director, Pinacoteca de São Paulo)

Opening: July 2020

Amilcar Packer's installation for the "Laboratory for Flexible Structure", Casa do Povo, 2017. Photo by Julia Moraes.

This project sees three different but complementary institutions join forces to stage an exhibition responding to a question posed by the tragic fire at Brazil’s National Museum: What if we look at art history from the point of view of what is not there? Through an exhibition of contemporary indigenous artists and a series of performances and seminars; by fostering actions outside the museum’s physical limits; and by creating friction between the museum collection and indigenous art practices, this project aims to highlight the absence of indigenous art in museum collections, address questions of preservation, and rehearse another Brazil.

“This is an exemplary project showing how institutions can collaborate in a meaningful way to explore a set of questions around cultural patrimony and indigenous art. It is particularly timely in the aftermath of the fire that ravaged Brazil’s national museum.”
Emilie Gordneker

Sir Nicholas Serota said: “Institutions of different types and scales rarely work together in a collaboration. Here, a state museum, a regional cultural centre and a house of prayer are working together to explore the place of the indigenous in Brazilian culture. Large institutions can learn from small and this collaboration will strengthen all three institutions.”

Jochen Volz, General Director of Pinacoteca de São Paulo, said: "Pinacoteca has been working with guest curator Naine Terena on the preparation of an exhibition of contemporary indigenous artists for some time, but only through the Sotheby’s Prize will we be able to partner with Casa do Povo and the Kalipety village to raise even larger questions around the project: What makes art indigenous? Is not the indigenous definition of art-making so much wider, naturally including music, dance, story-telling, and the passing on of knowledge? What are the contemporary indigenous conditions of making and of occupying spaces?"

Jera Guarani, Leader of Kalipety, said: "Our interest in this work is deeply connected to the moment we are living now, in relation to our political reality. We need more than ever to strengthen ourselves as a people that resists – and re-exists – throughout the more than 500 years of contact with the so-called ‘civilised’ people who have only brought destruction upon us. Today, strengthening our culture, strengthening our struggle, means guaranteeing the continuity of our people and the preservation of the little nature that remains."

Benjamin Seroussi, Director of Casa do Povo, said: "In the Brazilian context, decolonising art institutions also means indigenising the very notion of art. By articulating a museum, a cultural centre and a Guarani Mbya village in the making of an art exhibition, OPY is a unique occasion to experiment, rehearse and expand this issue on a real scale. Such a project dialogues strongly with Casa do Povo's programme that aims at broadening the notion of culture. This endeavour cannot be done only in the realm of ideas. It will only be relevant if it also makes sense for indigenous communities to step in.”

MASP – Museu de Arte de San Paulo Assis Chateaubriand – Histórias indigenas

Curated by: Adriano Pedrosa, Artistic Director, MASP; Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, Adjunct Curator, MASP; Tomás Toledo, Chief Curator, MASP; Franchesca Cubillo, Senior Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, National Gallery of Australia; Greg Hill, Audain Senior Curator and Head of the Department of Indigenous Art, National Gallery of Canada; Nigel Borell, Curator of Māori Art, Auckland Art Gallery; Sandra Gamarra, Artist and Curator, Lima; Abraham Cruzvillegas, Artist and Curator, Mexico City and Paris; Sandra Benites, Guarani Nhandewa Curator and Researcher, doctoral candidate, Museu Nacional da Universidade do Rio de Janeiro; Liisa-Rávná Finbog, Sami curator and researcher, Universitetet i Oslo

Opening: October 2021

Museu de Arte de San Paulo Assis Chateaubriand – Histórias indigenas

This exhibition will present the art and visual culture of different indigenous histories from across the world, bringing together works of different mediums, origins and periods, from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century. “Histórias” in Portuguese encompasses fiction as well as non-fiction, and personal accounts as well as historical ones. In this sense, it is a more fragmented and open-ended term than its English equivalent, and this polyphonic quality is what binds the broad range of material in the exhibition. Each of the regional sections – Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, and Sami (Norway) – will be curated or co-curated by indigenous curators or artists with an indigenous background.

“This is an extremely compelling proposal from a curatorial team that has a proven ability to organise complex exhibitions that break new ground and propose critically needed narratives of aspects of history too long ignored. It can be a game-changer.”
Donna de Salvo

Sir Nicholas Serota said: “The jury was struck by the depth of research at this stage of the project and by the collaboration on the exhibition with corresponding institutions in other parts of the world. The exhibition promises to be an authoritative examination of the phenomenon of indigeneity which has become a pressing subject of enquiry in the visual arts.”

Adriano Pedrosa, Artistic Director of MASP, said: “We are thrilled to receive the Sotheby Prize, as it will provide significant financial support for our project ‘Histórias indígenas’ at MASP, also giving it remarkable international visibility at this early stage. This is particularly crucial at a time when all such histories are becoming increasingly urgent and need to be addressed, while the funding for their projects remains quite challenging.”

Nigel Borell, Curator of Māori Art, Auckland Art Gallery, said: “This acknowledgement of ‘Histórias indígenas’ reiterates the care, vigour and integrity with which this conversation about global Indigenous art histories has developed with this project at MASP, not just with invited Indigenous curators globally but also locally with the numerous Indigenous Amazonian voices that have been included in this pertinent understanding of histórias indígenas. This is impressive and shows a genuine commitment and desire to engage with the topic in empowering ways for Indigenous peoples.”


Newberry Library – Renaissance Invention: Stradanus’s Nova Reperta

Curated by: Lia Markey, Director of the Center for Renaissance Studies, Newberry Library; Suzanne Karr Schmidt, George Amos Poole III Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Newberry Library

Opening: April 2020

Philips Galle after Johannes Stradanus, America, c. 1588, engraving, Chicago, Newberry Library, VAULT Case Wing folio Z 412 .85

This exhibition will use a sixteenth-century print series, the Nova Reperta, to encourage conversations about technology, globalisation and creativity, and to explore how a society dealt with anxieties around these issues four centuries ago. While the Nova Reperta celebrates the novelty of advanced scientific inventions, the prints also reveal anxiety about technological innovation in a rapidly changing world. What is the role of the machine? How does the process of creation and creativity change with the availability of new technologies? This exhibition will explore these questions, drawing connections between the “darker side of the Renaissance” and societal concerns today.

“This will be a small-scale and truly innovative show that will animate audiences’ interest in an overlooked area of the collection.”
Allan Schwartzman

Emilie Gordenker said: “This exhibition will demonstrate that older art, which can seem remote to a larger public, touches on ideas that are hugely relevant today: technology, globalisation, and creativity. This is a very creative way to approach the exhibition of a sixteenth-century print series that might otherwise not go on display.”

Lia Markey, co-curator and Director of the Newberry Library’s Center for Renaissance Studies said: “By mounting Renaissance Invention, we’re inviting visitors to explore universal themes that reverberate across time: change, disruption, and technological advancement. People living in the Renaissance expressed both excitement and anxiety about the innovations of their time—a mix of emotions we see reflected in society today.”

Barbican Art Gallery – Michael Clark

Curated by: Florence Ostende, Curator, Barbican Art Gallery

Opening: 11 June 2020

Michael Clark, Because We Must, 1987 © Photography by Richard Haughton

This will be the first ever major exhibition of dancer and choreographer Michael Clark. Presenting a comprehensive vision of his career to date alongside newly commissioned work, the exhibition will challenge the supposed divisions between solo and group shows, and inspire new ways of understanding an artist whose work transcends pre-conceived boundaries.

“This will be an innovative exhibition acknowledging an artist working across and drawing inspiration from a range of disciplines.”
Allan Schwartzman

“The number and range of people Michael Clark has collaborated with over the years is truly impressive. This promises to be a historically important exhibition that will present Clark’s impact through the lens of his collaborators, who range across music, fashion, film and the visual arts, and will create a new narrative around collaboration.” – Donna De Salvo

“The Barbican is the right place to present his work in the full context of its cross-disciplinary, collaborative approach. This exhibition will have a far-reaching influence, both as a historical marker in dance and in the broader history of art.” – Connie Butler

“Michael Clark has been a regular performer on stage at the Barbican Centre for much of his career. It is therefore especially appropriate that the Gallery should mount the first major exhibition devoted to his work. – Sir Nicholas Serota

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts -The Dirty South: The Southern Impulse in Art, Material and Sonic Culture

Curated by: Valerie Cassel Oliver, Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Opening: April 2021

Sanford Biggers (America, born 1970), Khemestry, 2017, antique quilt, birch plywood, gold leaf, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, National Endowment for the Arts Fund for American Art, 2017.

This exhibition will explore the parallels between musical expression and contemporary art in the American South over the past century. It will trace the roots of Southern Black Hip Hop, drawing on imagery in music videos, lyrics, and cultural ephemera to reveal the long trajectory of its influence on the visual arts.

“What the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is doing is radical. Valerie is spearheading really incredible efforts to make the city look at its history with slavery, and in that context, this exhibition is especially important.”
Connie Butler

Donna De Salvo said: “This exhibition takes a deep dive into black culture of the American South, to trace traditions of music, craft, and the visual arts of seminal twentieth-century figures in dialogue with artists working today. What is on offer here is a major contribution to a history still being written.”

Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO said: "The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is honoured to receive this recognition from the Sotheby’s Prize jury. The Dirty South continues VMFA’s history of organising innovative exhibitions that present the work and legacy of African American artists in all media, in line with our strategic plan commitment to serve new audiences. With its emphasis on the art, music, and material culture of the Southern United States, this exhibition helps support VMFA’s fundamental educational mission and expands the narrative of twentieth- and twenty-first-century art to include African American artists in a more visible and meaningful way."

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston – The Art of Cruelty

Curated by: Rebecca Matalon, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

Opening: December 2021

Peggy Ahwesh and Keith Sanborn, The Deadman (video still), 1989. 16mm film on video, black and white, sound, 35:56 minutes. Image and work courtesy the artists.

Inspired by Maggie Nelson’s 2011 book, The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning, this group exhibition will present a cross-generational and transdisciplinary view of artists whose work addresses questions of brutality, in relation to key cultural or political moments such as the Civil Rights movement, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the rise of the prison industrial complex, and the current immigration and opioid crises. Key to The Art of Cruelty is an understanding of the ways in which contemporary culture has been radically transformed by images, both moving and still, and their circulation via new technological developments. While Nelson’s book looks across the twentieth century, this exhibition takes a more contemporary focus, presenting film, photography, sculpture, painting, performance, poetry, prose, and video by approximately thirty artists from the 1960s to the present, with emphasis on art made over the last thirty years.

“This hits a nerve; it is an exhibition with a challenging theme that will encourage us to look at the work of some familiar artists in a new light, bringing out aspects or concerns that have not previously been so apparent.”
Sir Nicholas Serota

Emilie Gordenker said: “I confess that I was thrown by the title of this exhibition, as I was not familiar with Maggie Nelson’s 2011 book. The proposal convinced me that cruelty is a historically relevant form of artistic expression, and I expect that it will offer a nuanced view of the history of violence in art.”

Christina Brungardt, Interim Director said: “Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) is uniquely positioned as a non-collecting institution to engage with the ‘now,’ providing a forum for artists to speak to their current social, cultural, and political moment. Curator Rebecca Matalon's exhibition The Art of Cruelty provides a rich and rewarding thematic framework to reconsider and recontextualise the artists presented. Whether previously shown at CAMH or new to our audiences, each artist will be seen with a fresh perspective allowing for reflection on the violence and brutality inherent in recent history.”

Fisk University Galleries – African Modernism in America, 1947-1967

Curated by: Perrin Lathrop, Warhol Foundation Curatorial Fellow, Fisk University Galleries; Nikoo Paydar, former Associate Curator, Fisk University Galleries; Jamaal Sheats; Director and Curator, Fisk University Galleries

Opening: October 2022

1. Gerard Sekoto, Profile, oil on canvas, 1960. 25 ¼ x 18 ¼ in. Gift of the Harmon Foundation. Fisk University Galleries, 1991.2210.

This exhibition will reacquaint audiences with the promotion of modern African art in the United States during the Cold War. The show of 60 paintings, works on paper and sculptures takes its ambition from Art from Africa of Our Time, a survey of modern African art organised by the New York City-based Harmon Foundation in 1961. 1961 also saw many African countries embrace their newly gained independence, as well as the Freedom Riders’ protests in the American South and the failure of JFK’s Bay of Pigs invasion. The exhibition will present the work of modern African and African American artists in relation to each other and in reaction to interlocking histories of decolonisation, civil rights and the Cold War.

"This exhibition will expand our understanding of modernism and African art by reintroducing important and influential modern African artists who shattered the view of African creativity as limited to a “primitive” past with their committed, inventive and irrefutably contemporary work.”
Allan Schwartzman

Allan Schwartzman said: “This exhibition will expand our understanding of modernism and African art by reintroducing important and influential modern African artists who shattered the view of African creativity as limited to a “primitive” past with their committed, inventive and irrefutably contemporary work.”

Sir Nicholas Serota said: “The exhibition will present work that is only now beginning to achieve proper recognition in the histories of exchange between Africa and America. It will also document a fascinating initiative to form a collection that would establish the significance of African art at a time when many countries in Africa were achieving independence and becoming major international players during the Cold War.”

Jamaal B. Sheats, Director and Curator, Fisk University Galleries said: “Fisk University has been a collecting institution since the 1870s. Our exhibition African Modernism in America, 1947-1967 highlights the significance of Fisk University’s Harmon Foundation Collection of Modern African and African American Art. This commendation from the Sotheby’s Prize recognises the breadth, depth and importance of the collecting traditions at Fisk University and many other Historically Black Colleges and Universities.”

LEAD IMAGE: Pinacoteca de São Paulo Photo Levi Fanan.

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