Sable Elyse Smith Wins $200,000 Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize

Artist Sable Elyse Smith has won the Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize, which is awarded every two years and administered by the Contemporary Austin. The award comes with $200,000, a solo exhibition at the Texas art space that will then travel to the FLAG Art Foundation in New York, and an accompanying catalogue.

Smith, who was born in Los Angeles and is now based in New York, is a closely watched artist known for working in a variety of mediums, from video to sculpture to photography to painting. Her work primarily focuses on the US carceral system and how it not only impacts incarcerated people and their family but also has wide-reaching effects across society.

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Her work featured in both the 2022 Venice Biennale and the 2022 Whitney Biennial. For the latter exhibition, she presented a large-scale sculpture that took the form of a rotating Ferris wheel, made of black-painted tables connected together; the tables are similar to those that are typically seen in visiting rooms in US prisons.

She has had solo shows at the Queens Museum in New York and at Atlanta Contemporary, as well as being included in a number of important thematic exhibitions, including “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America” at the New Museum (2021), “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration” at MoMA PS1 (2020), “Colored People Time: Banal Presents” at the ICA Philadelphia (2019), and “Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon” at the New Museum (2017).

The winner of the Deal Booth / FLAG Prize is chosen based on past work, exhibition history, the award money’s significance to supporting their career, and how the artist’s forthcoming exhibition would impact the two institutions’ local communities.

In a statement, sharon maidenberg, the executive director and CEO of the Contemporary Austin, said, “At The Contemporary Austin, we believe that art holds the potential to transform the lives of artists and the lives of audiences and this is exactly what the Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize has done since its establishment. I am incredibly grateful that we have the opportunity to bring the work of a brilliant, thought-provoking, and distinct artist like Sable to Austin.”

Smith was selected by a five-person jury that included Dan Byers, the director of Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University; Valerie Cassel Oliver, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy, the former Director of the Kunstinstiuut Melly; Christine Y. Kim, a curator-at-large at Tate Modern; and the Contemporary Austin’s head curator and director of curatorial affairs, Alex Klein, who chaired the jury. FLAG Art Foundation director Jonathan Rider served as an institutional adviser to the jury.

The prize was founded in 2016 by ARTnews Top 200 Collector Suzanne Deal Booth, a longtime trustee of the Contemporary Austin; the first edition came with $100,000 and went to Rodney McMillain. In 2018, fellow Top 200 Collector Glenn Fuhrman signed on to expand the prize’s purse to $200,000. The other three winners include Nicole Eisenman (2020), Tarek Atoui (2022), and Lubaina Himid (2024). Himid’s exhibition is currently on view at the Contemporary Austin (through July 21) and will travel to the FLAG Art Foundation in September.

In a statement, Deal Booth said, “Sable is a prescient voice among her generation with a dynamic artistic background, and does not shy away from asking challenging questions. I’m eager to see how she will continue expanding the impact and possibilities of an artistic practice.”


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