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Press Room


Kara Walker Wins the 2004 Lucelia Artist Award

Media only: Laura Baptiste (202) 275-1595

The Smithsonian American Art Museum announced today (April 15) that Kara Walker is the fourth annual winner of its Lucelia Artist Award, established by the museum in 2001 to encourage leading contemporary American artists. This award is part of the museum's commitment to contemporary art and artists through awards and acquisitions.

"Kara Walker embodies the qualities that the Lucelia Artist Award seeks to reward—a commitment to creative innovation and the courage to be daring," said Elizabeth Broun, the museum's Margaret and Terry Stent Director. "It is wonderful that the jury has selected this exceptional young artist as one of the key creative spirits working today."

An independent panel of jurors chose Walker for the award in recognition of her work that has inspired other artists and has set a precedent for inhabiting and investigating stereotypes. The five jurors who selected the winner were: Jack Bankowsky, editor-at-large at Artforum; Garry Garrels, chief curator of drawings and curator of paintings and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; Klaus Kertess, adjunct curator of contemporary art at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Neb.; Anne Wilkes Tucker, The Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and Richard Tuttle, artist. Sidra Stich is the Lucelia Artist Award executive director and director of art•SITES, a series of contemporary art, architecture and design handbooks.

"Kara Walker has already influenced a generation of artists and produced an impressive body of challenging work in a relatively short career. She has also shown a remarkable sense of relentless experimentation, growth and productive energy," wrote the Lucelia Artist Award jurors in their statement.

The jurors went on to commend Walker's work for "its focus on narrative [that] has also set her at the forefront of a current mode of contemporary visual expression. There's great energy in her work. It's about the future. Her imagery is looking forward. She challenges older, prevailing positions. She gives evidence of fortitude and perseverance. She takes our expectations and stretches them to the limit."

Walker was born in Stockton, Calif. in 1969. In 1991, she received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Atlanta College of Art, then went on to earn a masters of fine arts from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. Currently she lives and works in New York City and teaches in the department of the arts at Columbia University. Brent Sikkema Gallery in New York City represents Walker.

Walker is best known for her provocative large-scale silhouettes that she uses to explore difficult contemporary social issues. In her hands, the staid silhouette is transformed into a powerful tool for addressing provocative ideas. Using a theatrical sense of narrative and melodrama, Walker examines representations of slavery, desire, blackness and the old South in her paintings, mixed media works and in her writings. Her most recent installations use overhead projectors to incorporate the viewer in the scene and the issues she is exploring.

Walker's work has been shown widely across the United States and Europe. She has exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1997, she received a coveted MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, or "genius" grant. Walker represented the United States at the 2002 São Paulo Bienal in Brazil. Her most recent exhibition is "Fibbergibbet and Mumbo Jumbo: Kara E. Walker in Two Acts," on view at The Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia until August 14.

The Lucelia Artist Award, established in 2001, annually recognizes an American artist under the age of 50 who demonstrates exceptional creativity and has produced a significant body of artwork that is considered emblematic of this period in contemporary art. Jurors nominate artists who will be recognized as one of the most important artists of his or her time. The $25,000 award is intended to encourage the artist's future development and experimentation. Previous winners were Jorge Pardo (2001), Liz Larner (2002) and Rirkrit Tiravanija (2003).

The award winner is determined each year by a panel of five distinguished jurors selected from across the United States, each with a wide knowledge of contemporary American art. Jurors nominate artists to be considered for the award; there is no application. The 2004 nominees were: Matthew Barney, Uta Barth, Sam Durant, Robert Gober, Rachel Harrison, Roni Horn, Charles LeDray, Glenn Ligon, Vik Muniz, Matthew Ritchie, Paul Sietsema, Lorna Simpson, Kara Walker and Lisa Yuskavage.

The New York-based Lucelia Foundation, which funds the award, supports the visual arts, specifically 19th-century American and contemporary art.

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.

Note: A juror statement, the winner's curriculum vitae and an illustrated caption sheet are available. Call (202) 275-1594 for the password to access high-resolution images.