Several widely exhibited artists are among the winners of the 2022 MacArthur Foundation’s vaunted “genius” fellowships, each of which comes with $800,000 that is paid out over the course of five years.
This year’s winners include artists Paul Chan, Sky Hopinka, Tavares Strachan, and Amanda Williams, as well as the musician and scholar Martha Gonzalez, who has described her activism as a form of art-making. They are among a crop of fellows that also includes mathematicians, a historical demographer, and electric music composer.
Although the MacArthur Foundation regularly awards its fellowships to people who work in industries beyond visual art and art history, the awards are beloved within the art world. The $625,000 purse is larger than that of any other art prize that is U.S.-specific.
Chan won his “genius” fellowship about a month before the opening of a Walker Art Center survey in Minneapolis this November. He has won acclaim from critics for sculptures of wind-blown fabric figures that he termed “Breathers” and for light projections that appear to show objects falling. Since 2009, however, he has primarily worked on his publishing press, Badlands Unlimited, although last year he debuted a 13-and-a-half-foot-long painting of the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol at New York’s Greene Naftali gallery, where it received a mixed critical response.
The MacArthur Foundation praised his work for “testing the capacity of art to make human experience available for critical reflection and to effect social change.”
Hopinka, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and a descendant of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño people, has been crafting a rich body of experimental films, installations, and photographs over the past decade. Many of these works are focused on cultural memory, Indigenous history, and the secrets contained within landscapes, with works such as I’ll Remember You as You Were, Not as What You’ll Become (2016), an ode to the late Anishinaabe and Chemehuevi poet Diane Burns that moves in and out of abstraction, receiving prominent placement in museum shows.
Films such as that one, the MacArthur Foundation said, offer “new strategies of representation for the expression of Indigenous worldviews.”
Strachan made headlines several years ago when he sent into space a 24-karat gold bust of Robert Henry Lawrence Jr., the first African American to train as an astronaut for NASA. (The project was done with the Elon Musk–founded company SpaceX.) Yet Strachan’s work has also taken less spectacular forms, from low-key installations to paintings. Often, his works consider the limits of scientific knowledge and the role that colonialism has played in that discipline.
The foundation praised Strachan for “expanding the possibilities for what art can be and illuminating overlooked contributions of marginalized figures throughout history.”
Williams, who has also worked as an architect, is known for abstractions that explore what colors signify for various viewers. Sometimes, these hues are related to the Black experience, as they were in a series in which she painted homes slated for demolition in her home city of Chicago in monochromatic shades of rich red and bright blue. She recently had a show at Gagosian gallery in New York that was curated by dealer Antwaun Sargent.
Her work undertakes the process of “reimagining public space to expose the complex ways that value, both cultural and economic, intersects with race in the built environment,” the MacArthur Foundation said.
Gonzalez, who has labeled herself an “artivista,” is a Chicana musician who has performed with the band Quetzal, which has enlisted traditional Mexican sounds and brought them to life anew. The foundation said doing so was about “strengthening cross-border ties.”