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Sam Durant Wins deCordova Sculpture Park’s 2017 Rappaport Prize

The deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum announced today that multimedia artist Sam Durant is the eighteenth recipient of its annual $25,000 Rappaport Prize, which is given to an established contemporary artist with strong ties to New England.

“[Durant] has an impressive record of international and solo exhibitions and a substantial history of scholarly and critical attention,” executive director John Ravenal said. “His thoughtful and timely exploration of social justice and civil rights aligns perfectly with the Rappaport Foundations’ commitment to a better society through supporting leadership in public policy, medicine, and the arts.”

Born in Seattle in 1961, Durant grew up in the Boston area and studied art at the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, before earning his MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, where he now teaches. Durant often creates politically charged works that draw inspiration from American history and engage with subjects as diverse as the civil rights movement, southern rock music, and modernism.

In May, his work Scaffold, 2012, sparked a public outcry after it was installed in sculpture garden at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The two-story sculpture—a composite of representations of seven historical gallows that were used in the US between 1859 and 2006—was considered offensive by the Dakota Nation. Some American Indians even labeled it “a monument to genocide.” The controversy prompted hundreds of protesters to demonstrate outside the center and to demand the removal of the piece.

In response, Durant said that he made a “grave miscalculation” when he did not consult with the Dakota community before allowing the Walker Art Center to erect the piece so close to Mankato, where thirty-eight Dakotas were hanged in 1862. The artist issued an apology to the community and then transferred the intellectual property rights to the piece to the Dakota Nation, who have since dismantled it and will decide whether to burn it in a ceremonial ritual. The work has since led to intense debate about issues such as cultural appropriation and institutional responsibilities.

Other major works by Durant include Labyrinth, 2015, in Philadelphia, which addresses mass incarceration, The Meeting House, 2016, in Concord, Massachusetts, which examines the subject of race in colonial and contemporary New England, and What #is a museum?, a discursive social media project he started while serving as an artist in residence at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles from 2012 to 2013.

“It is such a wonderful surprise and tremendous honor to be recognized in my home region with the Rappaport Prize,” said Durant. “I am a New Englander to the core—its remarkable history has profoundly shaped and inspired me. The deCordova Museum was a big part of my formation as an artist, and my teacher George Greenamyer’s work Mass Art Vehicle at deCordova was one of the first public sculptures I loved. My work often puts me in the cross hairs of contentious and difficult debates, as it has recently, so deCordova’s acknowledgement is particularly timely—a cool drink of water for a parched soul.”