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Deana Lawson. Photo: Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.
Deana Lawson. Photo: Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

Deana Lawson Wins 2020 Hugo Boss Prize

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Hugo Boss today announced Deana Lawson as the winner of the 2020 Hugo Boss Prize. Lawson is the first photographer to win the biennial prize since it was established in 1996 to recognize extraordinary achievements in the field of contemporary art. She will receive $100,000 and a solo show at the Guggenheim in spring 2021.

Known for her highly staged formalist photographs focusing on family, intimacy, sexuality, spirituality, and Black subjectivity, Lawson in college abandoned plans to earn a business degree in order to pursue photography. She has described her work as negotiating “a knowledge of selfhood through a profoundly corporeal dimension; the photographs speaking to the ways that sexuality, violence, family, and social status may be written, sometimes literally, upon the body.”

Recent solo exhibitions include those at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; The Underground Museum, Los Angeles; and Kunsthalle Basel; her work has additionally appeared in the 2017 Whitney Biennial and in this year’s São Paulo Bienal; a major exhibition of her work is to open at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, in the fall of  2021.

“Her contribution to the medium and the larger cultural landscape is indelible,” acknowledged the Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong in a statement.

This sentiment was echoed in the jury’s statement, which read in part, “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.”

In recognition of their talent and efforts, and of the ongoing pandemic, the Guggenheim and Hugo Boss will additionally award $10,000 apiece to Nairy Baghramian, Kevin Beasley, Elias Sime, Cecilia Vicuña, and Adrián Villar Rojas, each of whom was shortlisted for this year’s prize.