For the first time in its history, three artists are sharing the Eben Demarest Fund award.
Founded in 1939, the fund has honored artists and archaeologists from Jackson Pollock to Tameka Cage Conley.
The prize money of up to $ 20,000 is typically awarded every two years, but the 2020 selection committee was unable to meet due to the pandemic, so the funds were carried over.
The three winners are the Pittsburgh-based visual artist Gavin Benjamin, the figurative realistic painter Daniela Kovačić from Evanston, Illinois, and the Brooklyn-based sculptor Kennedy Yanko. Everyone receives $ 18,000.
The fund was founded by Elizabeth B. Demarest, who taught at what is now Carnegie Mellon University. As an expression of her shared interest in art and world cultures, she named the fund after her father. A pool of experts selects nominees who have done significant work in their chosen areas and “show special prospects for future performance”.
The Pittsburgh Foundation has been responsible for the Demarest Awards since 2010.
Gavin Benjamin combines analog photography and appropriated images with collage, color and varnish to create his work of art. He was born in Guyana and raised in Brooklyn.
Benjamin plans to use his prize money to expand his residency at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. He will be producing a new work for a solo show in the fall of 2022 that will feature photographs taken in the museum’s galleries by members of the African American and immigrant community in Westmoreland County.
This fall, Benjamin presents new works for “Food Justice”, an exhibition at Contemporary Craft in collaboration with Jason Forck of the Pittsburgh Glass Center, and for “Home”, an exhibition at the Mattress Factory with works by African-American artists from Pittsburgh. Both exhibitions open in September.
Daniela Kovačić uses her own experiences with pregnancy and motherhood to create a project of around 10 large oil paintings depicting various mothers and children, with an emphasis on the experiences of children with disabilities.
She plans to use funds from the Demarest Prize to send her son to kindergarten so that she has the time to work consistently and build relationships with families who can participate in the project.
Kennedy Yanko creates sculptural works from found objects, recovered metal, bronze and heavy acrylic cast “paint skins”. She describes herself as “making art like an archaeologist” by digging up junk in junkyards.
Yanko plans to use the Demarest Prize to fund the inclusion of marble in her artwork. It’s rare, says Yanko, for women artists who are notoriously underpaid for their work compared to men to be able to create large, three-dimensional outdoor sculptures, especially from a material as expensive as marble.
“It’s really wonderful when donors give us what we need instead of what they think we need,” says Yanko of the Demarest Fund process.
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