The Pérez Art Museum Miami has launched a new annual unrestricted $50,000 artist award, known as the Pérez Prize, that recognizes the achievements of an individual artist’s innovative work over the preceding year. The first winner of the prize is Los Angeles–based painter Christina Quarles, who will be honored at the museum’s annual Art of the Party gala on Saturday.
The prize is endowed by Miami collectors Darlene and Jorge M. Pérez through their family foundation. Future awardees will be selected by an international jury, but Quarles was selected by PAMM’s curatorial team, from a group of about a dozen other artists who have shown at the museum or have work in its permanent collection.
The Pérezes had been thinking over the past few years as to how to further expand their philanthropy. Jorge Pérez said in an interview that his past experience as a board member of the National Endowment for the Arts made him realize that “the recognition of individual artists is very important.”
“Artists are sometimes neglected and need a push,” Pérez said. “We want to recognize that creativity of artists who are in that stage of their career where this recognition will help push their career.”
Quarles is best-known for paintings that show slightly abstracted figures whose bodies often push and press into each other. “In addition to just purely the beauty of the work,” Pérez said, “it talks about issues in today’s society: gender, sexual identity, and race.”
PAMM’s director, Franklin Sirmans, said, “We were interested in what she was doing as far as her work as a means of talking about historical painting. There are references to Process, Surrealism, and very contemporary references in many ways of how artists are interested in presenting human bodies.”
The museum’s team first became aware of Quarles’s work through a 2017 exhibition she had at David Castillo Gallery in Miami. More recently, it acquired a work by her that was produced for the most recent edition of the Made in L.A. biennial at the Hammer Museum in 2018. That piece, titled Forced Perspective (And I Kno It’s Rigged, But It’s tha Only Game in Town), marked a shift in Quarles’s practice, as she mounted un-stretched canvas to the wall, wrapping it slightly around a corner.
“One thing that was a big part of our conversation is impact,” Sirmans said. “How is this going to help not only recognize the great things you’ve already seen but how might it impact this artist moving forward? Another part of it is promise—we’re looking forward to what she’s going to do next.”
In addition to the Made in L.A. Biennial, Quarles appeared in the landmark 2017 show “Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon” at the New Museum in New York, and “Fictions,” the final “F” Series exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2017. She will have a solo exhibition at the Hepworth Museum in Wakefield, England, later this year, as well as one at her Los Angeles gallery, Regen Projects.
“I think anybody in contemporary art has had to think about Christina’s work over the course of the last year,” Sirmans said.