The High Museum of Art announced Brooklyn-based artist Xaviera Simmons as the 2008 recipient of the David C. Driskell Prize. Named after the renowned African American artist and art scholar, the Driskell Prize recognizes a scholar or artist in the beginning or middle of his or her career whose work makes an original and important contribution to the field of African American art or art history. Simmons’ work combines 21st-century media and traditional art forms, encompassing photography, performance, video and installation. Xaviera Simmons will be awarded at the Driskell Prize Dinner in Atlanta on April 21, 2008, and will give a public lecture at the High in July 2008, in conjunction with the National Black Arts Festival.
Photo: © Xaviera Simmons, Work In Progress: A New Era Americana, 2007. Color photograph, produced in conjunction with The Queens Museum of Art. Courtesy of the artist and March Gallery.
“Innovation and exploration are key components of a Driskell Prize winner’s artistic practice,” said Michael E Shapiro, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. Director of the High. “Xaviera Simmons’ work challenges existing ideas regarding history, community and art by allowing viewers and artists to participate in the environments she creates. We are pleased to honor Simmons’ fresh perspective in the field of African American art by awarding her this recognition.”
Xaviera Simmons thoroughly examines and engages a range of familiar topics, including landscape, history and community. In her newest photography series, titled “A New Era Americana,” she photographs passersby in front of pastoral backdrops on city streets, creating an uncertain and conflicted portrait. In works like these, Simmons uses visual cues to challenge the notion of a constructed identity.
Xaviera Simmons’ most acclaimed work is an installation piece commissioned in 2006 by Art in General for its storefront in New York City. Originally titled “How to Break Your Own Heart: Visitors Welcome,” the piece transformed the gallery’s project space into a “jazz salon.” This area featured felted floors, seating, a DJ booth, impromptu performances and a 24-hour video presentation. Simmons treated the walls with vintage jazz LP covers and scheduled musical performances, including her own DJ sets. Since its initial installation, “How to Break Your Own Heart” has tripled in size and traveled to the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, Texas, and the Zacheta National Art Gallery in Warsaw, Poland.
Born in 1974, Xaviera Simmons became a Cave Canem Poets Fellow in 2002 and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from Bard College in 2004. She completed a two-year actor-training conservatory program with Maggie Flanagan in 2005, as well as a studio residency with the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in New York City. In 2007 Simmons was awarded a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant and an “In the Public Realm” commission from The Public Art Fund. In 2008 Simmons will show works at March Gallery, New York City, and at the Bronx Museum of Art in “Street Art, Street Life.” She will also serve as an artist-in-residence at Platform Garanti in Istanbul, Turkey. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The selection process for the 2008 recipient of the Driskell Prize began with a call for nominations from a national pool of artists, curators, teachers, collectors and art historians. The final winner was chosen from these nominations by review-committee members Richard Powell, Professor of Art History at Duke University; Alvia Wardlaw, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Art, Houston; Franklin Sirmans, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Menil Collection; and Jeffrey Grove, Wieland Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
Past recipients include
2007 - scholar/curator Franklin Sirmans
2006 - artist Willie Cole
2005 - scholar Dr. Kellie Jones