The Guggenheim Museum announced that acclaimed photographer and Professor of Visual Arts Deana Lawson has been awarded the 2020 Hugo Boss Prize. She is the first photographer to ever receive the prize, considered among the most prestigious awards in the contemporary art world.
Lawson’s work negotiates knowledge of selfhood through a corporeal dimension. Her photographs speak to the ways that sexuality, violence, family, and social status may be written, sometimes literally, on the body. Lawson utilizes a wide spectrum of photographic languages: staged imagery, loose documentary, appropriated pictures given to her by her subjects, or images she discovers in the media. These different modes of photographic production, whether staged or found, feed into the ongoing narratives that Lawson engages.
In a statement Director of the Guggenheim Museum and Foundation Richard Armstrong acknowledged the impact of Lawson’s work, noting that “…her contribution to the medium and the larger cultural landscape is indelible.”
An international panel of distinguished museum directors, curators, and critics juries the prize. In recognizing the award, they stated “Lawson brilliantly negotiates the legacies of vernacular, documentary, and conceptual photography to create indelible tableaux of Black colloquial life. While appearing to be images of actual families, friends, and lovers, her large-format works are in fact highly staged, cast, and choreographed, grounding their subjects in aesthetically rich material environments even as they gesture toward an ethereal elsewhere—a deft, remarkable feat. Throughout her oeuvre, Lawson employs a number of formal and conceptual strategies that we believe will occupy viewers and scholars for generations to come.”
Lawson has been a member of the Program in Visual Arts faculty in the Lewis Center for the Arts since 2012 and was recently promoted by Princeton’s Board of Trustees to the status of Professor. Her work was included in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, New Photography 2011 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and she had a solo exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago in 2015. Her first museum survey will open in 2021 at the ICA Boston. She has participated in group exhibitions at The Studio Museum, Harlem; MoMA P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center; Artists Space, New York; and the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta. Gallery shows include Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago; Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York; Helene Bailly Gallery, Paris; and Light Work Gallery, Syracuse, New York. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, TIME Magazine, BOMB, The Collector’s Guide to New Art Photography, Photo District News, Time Out New York, Contact Sheet #154, and PQ Journal for Contemporary Photography. Lawson is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the John Gutmann Photography Fellowship, a Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant, an Aaron Siskind Fellowship Grant, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Grant. She has participated in the Workspace residency at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the Light Work residency in Syracuse, and the Visual Studies Workshop residency in Rochester, New York.
The Hugo Boss Prize honors outstanding achievement in contemporary art, celebrating the work of remarkable artists whose practices are among the most innovative and influential of our time. The biennial prize, established in 1996, sets no restrictions on age, gender, nationality, or medium. Presented by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, the prize carries an award of $100,000 along with a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Past winners include Matthew Barney (1996), Douglas Gordon (1998), Marjetica Potrč (2000), Pierre Huyghe (2002), Rirkrit Tiravanija (2004), Tacita Dean (2006), Emily Jacir (2008), Hans-Peter Feldmann (2010), Danh Vo (2012), Paul Chan (2014), Anicka Yi (2016), Simone Leigh (2018).