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MacArthur Foundation’s 2018 ‘Genius’ Grants Go to Julie Ault, Titus Kaphar, Wu Tsang


The MacArthur Foundation has announced the 25 recipients of its annual Fellows Program. Colloquially known as the “MacArthur Genius Grant,” the prize, begun in 1981 and awarded to a diverse cohort of artists, writers, activists, scientists, musicians, and more, offers each fellow an unrestricted grant of $625,000, which is given out over the course of five years.

“Working in diverse fields, from the arts and sciences to public health and civil liberties,” MacArthur Fellows Program managing director Cecilia Conrad said in a statement, “these 25 MacArthur Fellows are solving long-standing scientific and mathematical problems, pushing art forms into new and emerging territories, and addressing the urgent needs of under-resourced communities.

“Their exceptional creativity inspires hope in us all,” Conrad added.

Among this year’s grantees are artists Julie Ault, Titus Kaphar, and Wu Tsang, as well as poet Natalie Diaz, social justice advocate and pastor William J. Barber II, violinist Vijay Gupta, economist Amy Finkelstein, HIV/AIDS activist and epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves, and choreographer Okwui Okpokwasili.

Ault is an artist whose practice focuses on the curation of other artist’s pieces, and her work is often only kept permanent by the catalogues produced alongside the exhibition. Her contribution to the 2014 Whitney Biennial involved the creation of a show-within-a-show titled Afterlife: a constellation, which brought together the work of David Wojnarowicz and Martin Wong. She is currently working on a Nancy Spero show for the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City. A member of the now-defunct Group Material, which was active between 1979 and 1996, Ault helped produce one of the collective’s best-known works, the AIDS Timeline (1989), a room-size installation at the University Art Museum at the University of California, Berkeley that mixed art and artifacts, statistics and policy, and media coverage to “show the development of AIDS in the public consciousness,” Ault has said.

Kaphar works primarily in painting, producing works that look at the interwoven relationship between history and race, partly as a reflection on what is kept out of the art-historical canon. He uses the notion of layering as a literal directive to poetic ends, sometimes cutting into his canvases to expose painted images that would have been concealed from the viewer. He also created installations such as The Vesper Project (2013), which tells the fictional story of a 19th-century mixed-race family who, though legally black at the time, was able to pass as white. In 2019, Kaphar will open a space called NXTHVN in New Haven, Connecticut, that will provide recently graduated M.F.A. students with residencies. With Ken Gonzalez-Day, he is currently the subject of a two-person exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Tsang is a filmmaker and performance artist whose work deals with the two disciplines’ intersections and explores such topics as marginalization, representation, little-known histories, and underground subcultures. Her work has mixed the styles of fiction and documentary filmmaking. Tsang’s 2012 feature film Wildness focuses on the scene surrounding the Silver Platter, a queer and trans Latinx and immigrant bar in Los Angeles’s MacArthur Park neighborhood, which has been a site of the city’s LGBTQ Latinx community for more than half a century. First shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2012 and included in the Hammer Museum’s 2014 Made in L.A. biennial, the film used the historical narrative of the bar, as a way of pondering issues surrounding gentrification in Los Angeles. Tsang is currently nominated for the Guggenheim Museum’s $100,000 Hugo Boss Prize.

The full list follows below.

  • Matthew Aucoin, Composer and Conductor, New York
  • Julie Ault, Artist and Curator, New York
  • William J. Barber II, Pastor and Social Justice Advocate, Goldsboro, North Carolina
  • Clifford Brangwynne, Biophysical Engineer, Princeton, New Jersey
  • Natalie Diaz, Poet, Tempe, Arizona
  • Livia S. Eberlin, Analytical Chemist, Austin, Texas
  • Deborah Estrin, Computer Scientist, New York
  • Amy Finkelstein, Health Economist, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Gregg Gonsalves, Epidemiologist and Global Health Advocate, New Haven, Connecticut
  • Vijay Gupta, Violinist and Social Justice Advocate, Los Angeles
  • Becca Heller, Human Rights Lawyer, New York
  • Raj Jayadev, Community Organizer, San Jose, California
  • Titus Kaphar, Painter, New Haven, Connecticut
  • John Keene, Writer, Newark, New Jersey
  • Kelly Link, Fiction Writer, Northampton, Massachusetts
  • Dominique Morisseau, Playwright, New York
  • Okwui Okpokwasili, Choreographer and Performer, New York
  • Kristina Olson, Psychologist, Seattle
  • Lisa Parks, Media Scholar, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Rebecca Sandefur, Sociologist and Legal Scholar, Urbana, Illinois
  • Allan Sly, Mathematician, Princeton, New Jersey
  • Sarah T. Stewart, Planetary Scientist, Davis, California
  • Wu Tsang, Filmmaker and Performance Artist, New York
  • Doris Tsao, Neuroscientist, Pasadena, California
  • Ken Ward Jr., Investigative Journalist, Charleston, West Virginia

Correction 10/11/2018, 9:50 a.m.: An earlier version of this article misstated that the Silver Platter bar in Wu Tsang's Wildness film closed in 2010. It is, in fact, still open. The post has been updated to reflect this.

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