FOR NEARLY TWO DECADES, the David C. Driskell Prize has recognized acclaimed artists and scholars for their contributions to the field of African American art. Recipients have included Kellie Jones, Franklin Sirmans, Valerie Cassel Oliver, Rashid Johnson, Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Lyle Ashton Harris, Mark Bradford, Naima J. Keith, Amy Sherald, and Huey Copeland. Now scholar, art historian, and curator Adrienne L. Childs is joining the esteemed group.

The High Museum of Art in Atlanta announced Childs will receive the 2022 Driskell Prize, including a $50,000 cash award. Childs is an adjunct curator at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and an associate of the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

“As an art historian and curator, Dr. Childs consistently celebrates and amplifies the work of African American artists and produces thought-provoking scholarship examining Black representation throughout artistic traditions. We are honored to support her important work and recognize her considerable achievements with this year’s Driskell Prize,” High Museum Director Rand Suffolk said in a statement.

CHILDS’S RESEARCH AND CURATORIAL PRACTICE focuses on African American artists active in the 20th and 21st centuries. She has particular expertise on the relationship between race and representation in European and American fine and decorative arts.

Most recently, Childs guest curated “Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition” at The Phillips Collection (2020-21), making her the first Black curator to organize an exhibition at the storied museum since it opened in 1921. In her current role as adjunct curator at the Phillips, she is the first Black person to hold a curatorial position at the museum.

An ambitious exhibition, “Riffs and Relations” brought together more than 70 works of art by Romare Bearden, Robert Colescott, Beauford Delaney, Aaron Douglas, Wassily Kandinsky, Norman Lewis, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Faith Ringgold, Alma Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems, among others.

In terms of forthcoming projects, Childs is co-curating the exhibition “The Colour of Anxiety: Race, Sex and the Uncanny in Victorian Sculpture,” which opens at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, England in November. Also in the works, “Ornamental Blackness: The Black Figure in European Decorative Arts” will be published by Yale University Press. The volume considers “how the decorative arts figure into the larger discourse of representing blacks in European visual culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”

Previous exhibitions of note include “The Black Figure in the European Imaginary,” (2017) which Childs co-curated at The Cornell Fine Arts Museum (now the Rollins Museum of Art) at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.

Childs received a bachelor of arts in art history from Georgetown University, earned an MBA from Howard University, and holds masters and Ph.D., degrees in art history from the University of Maryland.

Adrienne L. Childs has particular expertise on the relationship between race and representation in European and American fine and decorative arts. She is the first Black curator to organize an exhibition at The Phillips Collection and the first Black person to hold a curatorial position at the museum.

THE DRISKELL PRIZE WAS ESTABLISHED in honor of the late great David C. Driskell (1931-2020), the artist, art historian, and educator, and leading authority on African American art. He was a professor of art at the University of Maryland, College Park, for two decades (1977-1998), serving as the first African American to chair the art department, from 1978 to 1983. He retired as a Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Art in 1998.

Annually, beginning in 2005, he proudly bestowed his namesake prize on a new generation of accomplished individuals dedicated to carrying on his legacy and advancing the field he contributed so much to shepherding, documenting, and growing.

Childs had first-hand experience with Driskell, whom she considered a mentor. From 2005-10, she served as a curator at the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, where she earned her doctorate. When Driskell died last year due to complications from COVID-19, Childs provided a statement to Culture Type about his influence on her life and work. She said in part: “Like many former students, he has supported my career in profound ways—championing my work, writing letters, happily giving access to his network of friends and colleagues in the art world. I was one of the many beneficiaries of his fearless and successful effort to ‘grow the field.'”

Each year, the Driskell Prize recipient is selected by their peers. A call for nominations was issued from a national pool of artists, curators, art historians, teachers, and collectors. Based on the nominations, Childs was chosen by a review committee organized by the High Museum. The panel members were art historian and professor Richard Powell of Duke University; Alvia Wardlaw, director of the University Museum at Texas Southern University; and High Museum curators Stephanie Heydt and Katherine Jentleson.

CHILDS WILL BE HONORED OFFICIALLY on April 29 at the 17th annual Driskell Prize Dinner at the High Museum, where she will receive a $50,000 cash award. When the prize was first established, winners were given $25,000. The prize was increased this year.

Proceeds from dinner benefit the David C. Driskell African American Art Acquisition Restricted and Endowment funds. Over the years, the funds have made it possible to add 51 works of art by African American artists to the High Museum’s collection.

Culture Type reached out to Childs and asked what receiving the 2022 Driskell Prize meant to her. “I have always felt so appreciative to be able to work in a field that I love and with wonderful people, like David Driskell,” Childs said via email. “And now to be recognized in a prize awarded by my peers and named for my mentor is an unexpected and extraordinary honor.” CT

 

IMAGE: Adrienne L. Childs. | Photo by Archie Brown

 

FIND MORE about Adrienne L. Childs on her website

READ MORE “Riffs and Relations” was reviewed in The Washington Post. Philip Kennicott called the exhibition “absorbing”

FIND MORE In July 2021, Adrienne L. Childs participated in the Bernard Osher Lecture Series at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine (virtually), discussing “David C. Driskell: Interiors, Objects, and the Spirit of Form”

 

SEE FULL LIST of Driskell Prize Recipients dating back to 2005

 

READ MORE In memorial tribute, artist, curators, and scholars shared memories of David Driskell with Culture Type in 2020

 

BOOKSHELF
Adrienne L. Childs authored the recent exhibition catalog “Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition.” She also co-authored “Blacks and Blackness in European Art of the Long Nineteenth Century” and co-edited “The Black Figure in the European Imaginary,” both with Susan H. Libby. Childs contributed to the new exhibition catalog “Bob Thompson: This House Is Mine,” as well as “The Rise of Black Artists (Part 2) (The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume V).” More than a decade ago, she also wrote “Margo Humphrey (The David C. Driskell Series of African American Art).”

 

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