Tess Korobkin Receives the 20th Annual Frost Essay Award

Tess Korobkin is the recipient of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Patricia and Phillip Frost Essay Award for her article “Monumental Absence: Augusta Savage’s Unbuilt Monuments, 1931–1943,” which appeared in the fall 2023 issue (vol. 37, no. 3) of American Art, the museum’s peer-reviewed journal for new scholarship. Korobkin’s article focuses on sculptor Augusta Savage’s proposed monuments to Black American lives and histories, including memorials to transatlantic entertainer Florence Mills, author and civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson and the World War I service of the Harlem Hellfighters. While none of these works were ever constructed, Korobkin argues Savage’s unrealized public projects raise surprising new questions about how to approach absences in the U.S.-American memorial landscape through a history of what might have been. 

The jurors who awarded the $1,000 prize were Cherise Smith, the Joseph D. Jamail Chair in African American studies and professor in the African and African Diaspora studies and art and art history departments at the University of Texas at Austin; Shawn Michelle Smith, professor of visual and critical studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; and Chon A. Noriega, distinguished professor in the department of film, television and digital media at the University of California, Los Angeles. All three are members of the journal’s editorial board. 

The jurors praised Korobkin for her “masterful demonstration on how to conduct research and produce effective critical writing on absent subjects” noting that the text “significantly expands our understanding of Savage’s creative practice.” The panel believes Korobkin’s article “fills critical gaps in our understanding of both Augusta Savage’s work and the historiography of monuments in the United States, and effectively ties this historical work to contemporary conversations about public memory and the role public visual culture plays in shaping our imaginations both forward and backwards in time.” 

The Frost Essay Award recognizes excellent scholarship in the field of American art history by honoring an essay published the previous year in American Art. Each year, the winning essay must advance the understanding of American art history and demonstrate original research and fresh ideas. The award, established in 2004, is made possible through the Patricia and Phillip Frost Endowment.

Korobkin is an alumna of the Smithsonian American Art Museum fellowship program and an assistant professor in the department of art history and archaeology at the University of Maryland, College Park. 

This year, for the third time in the history of the award, the jury has given an honorable mention; it goes to Chad Elias for his article “Islam and the Middle East in the United States: Claire Beckett’s ‘Simulating Iraq’ and ‘The Converts,’” which also appeared in the fall 2023 issue of American Art. Elias’ essay discusses Beckett’s portraits and landscapes taken in U.S. military training centers, where fabricated Afghan and Iraqi villages help soldiers prepare for deployment. These images interrogate long held and widespread misconceptions of the region. 
Elias is an associate professor in the department of art history at Dartmouth College. His research looks expansively across geographies and media to engage with debates about state-sponsored violence, archival knowledge and the epistemological claims of lens-based media.  

The journal American Art is part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s robust publication program of books and catalogs that complements the museum’s exhibitions and educational programs. Information about subscribing, purchasing single issues or submitting articles to the journal, which is published for the museum by the University of Chicago Press, is available online. A complete list of past Frost Essay Award winners and additional information about the award are available on the museum’s website.

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: americanart.si.edu.

Press Images

Tess Korobkin standing in front of a brick wall.
Press - Frost Prize, Tess Korobkin

Photo courtesy of Tess Korobkin

Chad Elias in front of a wall with rolls of paper behind him.
Press - Frost Prize, Chad Elias

Photo courtesy of Chad Elias