The American Art Museum Announces Nominees for Contemporary Artist Award

We help you sort out who’s who from the museum’s recent announcement, in a series of three posts

The American Art Museum recognized 15 outstanding contemporary artists, but only one will win the grand prize in October.

Consider it the American Art Museum’s 15 under 50; the 15 contemporary artists named as this year’s nominees for a $25,000 award represent a wealth of creativity that any artist, under 50 or not, would admire.

Selected by a jury that will remain anonymous until the winner is announced in October, these artists work in a variety of media from photography to ceramics to sculpture. For everyone who protests they just don’t get contemporary art or don’t know where to begin, this list certainly won’t steer you in the wrong direction. We’ll take a look at five artists at a time, in a series of three posts, before the winners are announced to get you up to speed.

The first five artists and where you can view some of their work:

Matthew Buckingham: Born in Iowa, Buckingham studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and went on to an independent study program at the Whitney. Using film and video installation, Buckingham gently toys with familiar places and histories. In his 1992 work, The Truth About Abraham Lincoln, Buckingham turns Lincoln’s biography into a series of true/false statements interspersed with reenactments from the president’s life. View one of his pieces at ”Light and Landscape” at the Storm King Art Center in New York. Through November 11.

Kathy Butterly: Known for her ceramic sculptures, Butterly brings a playful approach to clay. Her 1997 self-portrait, a ceramic vessel with four limbs perched on an ornate pedestal, is titled “Like Butter,” playing on the artist’s last name. Butterly’s works are richly colored and seem to exist as living organisms, mimicking organic forms. You can see one of her porcelain pieces in the permanent collection in New York’s Museum of Arts and Design as well as a piece titled Royal Jelly at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Christina Fernández: Working with photography, Fernández is able to create portraits of a community in a single frame, overlaying urban landscapes and individuals. In both color and black and white, she creates haunting images of daily life. Her 2002 series Lavanderia, for example, features a laundromat. Several of her works are on view in The Latino Museum‘s permanent collection in Los Angeles.

Amy Franceschini: Another representative from the West Coast, Franceschini works across media, even bringing gardening into her artistic production. As a founding member of the art collective Futurefarmers, she creates works that are interactive and engaging while reflecting on modernity. The well-known 2009 piece  The People’s Roulette featured a giant rotating wooden wheel. Viewers were invited to hold on against the wheel’s accelerating speeds or else be thrown to the edges. The action is meant to mirror the relationship between core-periphery urban communities, particularly in economic zones like Hong Kong where it was exhibited. Her work often shows around the Bay Area, check her site for more information.

Rachel Harrison: The New Yorker described Harrison‘s totemic-like sculptural work, noting her ability to “invest rough-hewn constructions with exquisite humor.” Sometimes offered up as portraits, her towering structures mix media and often reference pop-culture. Her work is included in a current show at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, “Natural History: Forum 69,” running through Oct. 14.


Still to come: Oliver Herring, Glenn Kaino, Sowon Kwon, Ruben Ortiz-Torres, Jaime Permuth, Will Ryman, Ryan Trecartin, Mark Tribe, Mary Simpson and Sara VanDerBeek.

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