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Ralph Lemon. Photo: MacArthur Foundation.
Ralph Lemon. Photo: MacArthur Foundation.

Ralph Lemon and Fred Moten Among 2020 MacArthur “Genius” Grant Winners

Cultural theorist Fred Moten and choreographer Ralph Lemon are among this year’s cohort of MacArthur “Genius” grant winners, all of whom will each receive a no-strings-attached prize of $625,000, disbursed over five years by the MacArthur Foundation. Both Lemon and Moten are based in New York and widely recognized for expanding the boundaries of their fields through their capacious and intimate explorations of movement, sound, race, and history; Lemon has cited Moten’s work as an influence on his own, and Moten contributed to a 2016 monograph on Lemon published by the Museum of Modern Art.

Lemon, who emerged from New York’s dance and performance scenes in the 1980s, has been laureled for “generating interdisciplinary modes of artistic expression for stories, emotions, memories, and identities that traditional media do not accommodate.” The Minneapolis-raised artist’s conceptual performance works often merge dance with text, visual art, and music. The recipient of copious accolades and exhibitions, Lemon is currently a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a mentor at Columbia University’s School of the Arts.

The foundation recognized Moten—a cultural critic and poet whose many cross-disciplinary books include the recent trilogy consent not to be a single being (2017–18, Duke University)—for “creating new conceptual spaces to accommodate emerging forms of Black aesthetics, cultural production, and social life.” After publishing his first book, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (University of Minnesota), in 2003, Moten has gone on to become an outsized presence in the art world, his work an acknowledged inspiration for artists including Charles Gaines, Juliana Huxtable, Arthur Jafa, Glenn Ligon, and Wu Tsang.

Also awarded the “Genius” grant was Nanfu Wang, a documentary filmmaker who earlier this year released One Child Nation, about China’s infamous one-child policy. 

“In the midst of civil unrest, a global pandemic, natural disasters, and conflagrations, this group of 21 exceptionally creative individuals offers a moment for celebration,” the foundation said in a statement. “They are asking critical questions, developing innovative technologies and public policies, enriching our understanding of the human condition, and producing works of art that provoke and inspire us.”