Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby Awarded Clark Art Institute Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing

The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts announced that Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby, an arts and humanities professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is the recipient of its $25,000 prize for excellence in arts writing. Grigsby is known for her scholarship on the history of art and material culture in France and the United States from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries, especially in relation to colonialism, slavery, and constructions of race.

Grigsby is the author of three books: Enduring Truths: Sojourner’s Shadows and Substance (University of Chicago Press, 2015), Colossal: Engineering the Suez Canal, Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, and Panama Canal (Periscope Books, 2012), and Extremities: Painting Empire in Post-Revolutionary France (Yale University Press, 2002). She is currently working on a fourth book, Creole: Portraying France’s Foreign Relations in the Nineteenth Century, a collection of essays on the relationship between French art and the Caribbean and Americas (Penn State University Press). In 2016, Grigsby curated an exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum, “Sojourner Truth, Photography and the Fight Against Slavery,” that related to her book on the abolitionist leader. The show featured Grigsby’s gift to the museum of her collection of American Civil War cartes de visites, small photographic calling cards.

“As the daughter of a Panamanian immigrant, a single mother who was hard-working, financially strapped, courageous, accented, and brown, I long hesitated even to aspire to speak about art—an act that I perceived to be the prerogative of a white and typically male elite,” Grigsby said. “How exclusionary can the heady mix of art and money feel to those who are not privileged! In response, my scholarship has been motivated by a commitment to equity, social justice, and the histories of overlooked and disenfranchised persons; thus my focus on slavery, empire, and revolution; thus my need not only to reexamine the canonical, but to analyze other kinds of neglected objects. As an educator at a public university under siege for lack of funding, the very university that introduced me to the field of art history, I attempt to enfranchise students, to empower them to question, resist, and find solace in art, to be curious about history, and to respect difference. Finally, I ask my students to analyze how the visual achieves what words do not, and—here is the kicker—to do so in writing. Art history’s paradox: finding words for what we see, the simplest, most elusive, and challenging of goals.”