Cherise Smith Awarded the 33rd Annual Eldredge Prize for Her Book Michael Ray Charles: A Retrospective”

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has awarded the 33rd annual Charles C. Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art to Cherise Smith for her book Michael Ray Charles: A Retrospective (University of Texas Press, 2020). The book is the first in-depth examination of the artist’s provocative paintings that sample images of racism from consumer culture.   

Elizabeth Hutchinson, associate professor of American art history at Barnard College/Columbia University; Nizan Shaked, professor of contemporary art history, museum and curatorial studies at California State University, Long Beach; and Paul Staiti, professor of fine arts on the Alumnae Foundation at Mount Holyoke College served as jurors for the $3,000 prize. 

The independent panel selected Smith’s book because it “offers a comprehensive, richly illustrated and deeply researched chronicle of an important artist whose work processes found images and objects depicting the sordid tradition of American minstrelsy, confronting the viewer with difficult materials. The committee is impressed with Smith’s detailed analysis of the artworks, the clear presentation of complex theoretical ideas, and her elegant writing style. In addition, we believe that both the topic of this book and its format push forward a vital contemporary discussion about how art and visual culture can engage critically with the painful history of racism.”  

Smith is the Joseph D. Jamail Chair in African American Studies and a professor in the African and African Diaspora Studies and art and art history departments at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research centers on African American art, the history of photography, performance and contemporary art. She is the author of Enacting Others: Politics of Identity in Eleanor Antin, Nikki S. Lee, Adrian Piper and Anna Deavere Smith (Duke University Press, 2011), a study of how identity is negotiated in performance art in which women artists take on the characteristics and manners of a racial, ethnic and gender “other.” In addition, she has published essays in Art Journal, American Art and Exposure, among other publications. She received a doctorate in 2005 from Stanford University.          

In conjunction with the award, Smith will present the annual Eldredge Prize Lecture in April 2022. Details and more information will be available on the museum’s website.   

The Eldredge Prize, named in honor of the museum’s former director (1982–1988), is sponsored by the American Art Forum, a patrons’ support organization. This annual award, initiated in 1989, recognizes 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 previous three calendar years are eligible. The deadline for nominations for the 2022 prize is Jan. 15.  

Recent Eldredge Prize recipients include Linda Kim (2020) for her book Race Experts: Sculpture, Anthropology and the American Public in Malvina Hoffman’s “Races of Mankind,” Shaked (2019) for her book The Synthetic Proposition: Conceptualism and the Political Referent in Contemporary Art and Susan Rather (2018) for her book The American School: Artists and Status in the Late Colonial and Early National Era. A complete list of past winners is available online

About the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the flagship museum in the United States for American art and craft. It is home to one of the most significant and inclusive collections of American art in the world. The museum’s main building, located at Eighth and G streets N.W., is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The museum’s Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Check online for current hours and admission information. Admission is free. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website:

Press Images

Portrait of Cherise Smith 33rd Annual Eldridge Prize Winner
Press - 33rd Annual Eldridge Prize, Cherise Smith

Image Courtesy of Cherise Smith