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Press Room

9/3/2003

15th Annual Eldredge Prize Awarded for Examination of Censorship in 20th-Century American Art

Media only: Laura Baptiste (202) 275-1595


The Smithsonian American Art Museum has awarded the 2003 Charles C. Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art to Richard Meyer, associate professor of art history at the University of Southern California. His recent book, Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art (Oxford University Press, 2002), is recognized for its groundbreaking historical analysis of the relationship between homosexuality and censorship in American art from 1934 through 2000.

The three jurors who awarded the $2,000 prize were: Wanda M. Corn, Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor in art history at Stanford University; Sally Promey, professor in the department of art history and archaeology, University of Maryland; and Carol Troyen, John Moors Cabot Curator of paintings for the art of the Americas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

"We commend Meyer for the complexities of his arguments and for his generous, often personalized, voice," the Eldredge Prize jurors wrote in their decision. "While he makes it clear that he cares deeply about the issues of free sexual choice and free speech, it is the brilliance of his analysis that makes his scholarly advocacy so powerful. On several occasions, he shares with his readers his own sense of vulnerability in writing about explicit sexual imagery especially in an era that is itself prone to censorship. We found his interpretations to be comprehensive and multivalent, leaving plenty of room for readers to draw their own conclusions."

The jurors also commented that "this beautifully written book analyzes difficult and controversial visual material with great care, sensitivity and intelligence."

"Richard Meyer's outstanding book expands our knowledge of the dynamics at work in 20th-century American visual culture," said Elizabeth Broun, the museum's Margaret and Terry Stent Director. "The Smithsonian American Art Museum has a long history of supporting new research and new ideas."

Outlaw Representation is a study of five different historical moments, from the confiscation of a painting by the U.S. Navy in 1934 to the culture wars over arts funding in the 1990s, when artists were censored and put under public scrutiny for creating sexual imagery deemed indecent, immoral or dangerous. The book focuses on particular artworks and the controversies they aroused in the careers of Paul Cadmus, Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, David Wojnarowicz, Gran Fury (an AIDS activist collective) and Holly Hughes. In each case Meyer grounds his analysis in meticulous archival research, using newspaper coverage, personal and institutional correspondence, interviews, documentary photographs and other archival and visual data to work through the multi-layered cultural meanings inherent in these history-making events.

Meyer received his doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley in 1996. He is currently the acting chair of the department of art history and an associate professor of modern and contemporary art at the University of Southern California, where he teaches courses on 20th-century American art and the history of photography. Meyer was the curator for "Paul Cadmus: The Sailor Trilogy" at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1996 and served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Getty Research Institute in 1998. He is the editor of Representing the Passions: Histories, Bodies, Visions (Getty Research Institute, 2003).

The Charles C. Eldredge Prize, named in honor of the former director of the museum (1982–1988), is sponsored by the American Art Forum, a patrons' support organization. This annual award, initiated in 1989, seeks to recognize originality and thoroughness of research, excellence of writing and clarity of method. Single-author, book-length publications in the field of American art history appearing within the three previous calendar years are eligible. It is especially meant to honor those authors who deepen or focus debates in the field or who broaden the discipline by reaching beyond traditional boundaries. The deadline for 2004 nominations is Dec. 1, 2003.

Recent Eldredge Prize recipients include:

  • 2002: Anthony W. Lee, Picturing Chinatown: Art and Orientalism in San Francisco (University of California Press, 2001)



  • 2001: Jodi Hauptman, Joseph Cornell: Stargazing in the Cinema .(Yale University Press, 1999)



  • 2000: Wanda M. Corn, The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915–1935 (The University of California Press, 1999)

Further information about the Eldredge Prize and a complete list of past winners is available on the museum's Web site at AmericanArt.si.edu/education/opportunities-eldredge.cfm.

The museum's research programs include fellowships for pre- and postdoctoral scholars, extensive photographic collections documenting American art and artists, and unparalleled art research databases. An active publications program of books, catalogs and the journal American Art complements the museum's exhibitions and educational programs.

Eldredge Prize Lecture
On Thursday, Nov. 20 at 3 p.m., Richard Meyer will present the annual Eldredge Prize lecture, titled "Outlaws: Queer Art and Public Controversy Since the Culture Wars," in the Grand Salon at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. This event is free and open to the public but reservations are required; call (202) 275-2313. For more information, call (202) 275-1557.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum collection began with gifts of art donated to the federal government in 1829 and has evolved into the world's most important American art holdings with approximately 40,000 artworks in all media spanning more than three centuries.

While the renovation of the museum's historic building continues, American Art offers a full program of exhibitions at its Renwick Gallery (Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W.). For information about Renwick Gallery activities, call (202) 357-2700 or visit the museum's award-winning Web site at AmericanArt.si.edu.

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