At Large  October 3, 2019  Chandra Noyes

Get to Know this Year's MacArthur Genius Artists

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Jeffrey Gibson

Each year, the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation introduces us to a new class of fellows who they describe as “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” Often called the “Genius Grant,” the fellowship comes with an unrestricted, no strings attached prize of $625,000 distributed over five years. The twenty to thirty annual recipients include scientists, scholars, advocates, artists, and musicians. This year, four stellar artists were given the financial and career boosts that come with the “Genius” title. Learn more about them below.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Lynda Barry
Graphic Novelist, Cartoonist, and Educator

Lynda Barry had her first cartoon published while she was still an undergraduate. “Ernie Pook's Comeek” went on to be nationally syndicated and is a cult classic alternative comic. In addition to comics, she has written several illustrated novels, including The Good Times are Killing Me (1988), which was turned into an off-Broadway play, and Cruddy: An Illustrated Novel (1999). Barry’s focus on the inner-lives and emotional turmoil of her characters has broadened the field of comics. In addition to her own work, Barry has devoted herself to sharing her talents through teaching. Through workshops, her college courses, and workbooks like Picture This (2010) and Syllabus (2014), Barry encourages people of all skill levels to find their voice and access their creativity.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Jeffrey Gibson
Visual Artist

Jeffrey Gibson’s work is fresh, bright and innovative and new while remaining firmly rooted in Native American tradition. Gibson, who is of Choctaw and Cherokee descent, uses materials made for and by Native Americans to create works that bring a new perspective to how Native arts have traditionally been defined. To this end, Gibson uses traditional craft techniques in bold and intricate works that bring attention to issues of Native identity and representation. His recent traveling retrospective Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer included hand-beaded punching bags, paintings on canvas and rawhide, videos, and figurative sculptures. Through his own visual vocabulary, Gibson seeks to correct a historical record that over-simplifies the Native experience, while forging a new, more complete voice for the future.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Mel Chin

The multi-media artistic practice of Mel Chin defies categorization. From more traditional fine arts like sculpture and collage to social and environmental interventions, Chin’s work makes poignant political statements in unexpected and eloquent ways. In the mid-90s, Chin infiltrated the popular television series Melrose Place through subtle details containing hidden messages about social issues for a project called In the Name of the Place (1994–1996). Chin’s art engaged with climate change and environmental justice for Revival Field (1990–1993), a project that used plant life to restore ecology health to a once-toxic plot of landfill. For last year’s retrospective exhibition All Over the Place, Chin was not content to occupy just the Queens Museum. Chin took his installations all over New York, including a 24-foot-tall shipwreck installation in Times Square that served as the entryway to an augmented reality experience about climate change and ecology.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Walter Hood
Landscape and Public Artist

Walter Hood is another artist who pushes the boundaries of what art is, what purpose it serves, and what it can be made of. Bridging landscape architecture and with social justice, he creates environments that are beautiful and functional, and that honor the past while embracing the future. In his parks and public spaces, Hood uses ecologically sustainable practices, including native plants, to build places for communities to gather and grow. Based in Oakland, California, Hood has transformed spaces throughout California and the US, including gardens at the M. H. de Young Museum, and Oakland’s Splash Pad park. Hood has designed a memorial garden for the International African American Museum, opening in Charleston, Sout Carolina, in 2021. Shaped like the slave ships that brought 40 percent of the slave population to America to this site, that honors the site, “takes cues from the tradition of ‘hush harbors’—landscapes where enslaved Africans would gather often in secret, outside the view of slave owners, to freely assemble, share stories and keep traditions from their homeland alive.”

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is the former Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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