Announced yesterday morning was the 2017 class of MacArthur fellows, a group of 24 innovative individuals who work in a broad range of disciplines—from writers and artists to computer scientists and anthropologists. Often referred to as the MacArthur "genius" grants, these fellowships recognize recipients for having displayed "extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction" and each receives a $625,000 award from the MacArthur Foundation "as an investment in their potential."
Among the 2017 fellows are two artists featured in The Met's 2015–16 Artist Project online series, which offered 120 artists the opportunity to reflect on what art is and what inspires them from across the 5,000 years of global art cared for in The Met collection.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Currently based in Los Angeles, Njideka Akunyili Crosby is a Nigerian-American mixed-media artist known for combining drawing, painting, and collage on paper in her dynamic work. The daughter of scientists, she studied biology and art before considering the career of an artist. By exploring the complexities of forging identity in a globalized society, Akunyili Crosby uses her work to communicate an inventive yet accessible representational strategy for understanding culture and history from multiple viewpoints.
In her episode of The Artist Project, Akunyili Crosby took a close look at Georges Seurat's Embroidery; The Artist's Mother, in which she notes that "so much of the beauty of this piece comes from the tactility of it . . . [which] begins to echo this action of embroidering."
Visitors to The Met can see Akunyili Crosby's contributions to the exhibition Talking Pictures: Camera-Phone Conversations Between Artists, in which she traded still images back and forth in a game of pictorial ping-pong with interdisciplinary artist and educator Nontsikelelo Mutiti.
A photographer and educator living in Chicago, Dawoud Bey has crafted an expansive approach to photography that creates new spaces of engagement within cultural institutions, so that they can provide a richer sense of meaning and connection with the communities in which they are situated. Four years after producing his first series of photography in 1975, entitled Harlem, USA, Bey was exhibited in a solo show at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Since then, his work has been exhibited in the Art Institute of Chicago, London's Barbican Centre, and the Whitney Museum.
As an artist with two of his own works included in The Met collection—The Blues Singer and [Man at 116th Street and Lenox Avenue]—Bey reflected on the work of Roy DeCarava in his episode of The Artist Project, noting that DeCarava was "the first African-American artist working within the medium of photography that I could look to as an inspiration."
The Met has proven to be a source of inspiration for Bey since his first trips to the Museum as child. A speaker at The Met's 2015 TEDxMet event, Bey spoke passionately about one 1969 trip to The Met during his talk, "Art Begins with an Idea."
With more than seven million visitors per year, The Met is inspiring new ways of thinking every day throughout its three locations. Congratulations to Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Dawoud Bey on their 2017 MacArthur fellowships, and the Museum community looks forward to learning more about future MacArthur fellows who may be thinking critically about art and humanity in our galleries today!
Now a book published by Phaidon, The Artist Project: What Artists See When They Look at Art features the 120 influential contemporary artists from the online series discussing the art that inspires them in The Met collection. Images of Met artworks accompany those by the artists, allowing readers to discover a rich web of visual connections that spans cultures and millennia.