Thelma Golden presents artist Cy Gavin with the 2023 Wein Prize at the Studio Museum in Harlem’s annual gala. | Photo by Bre Johnson, BFA

The museum’s Oct. 30 gala honored Cy Gavin and Elizabeth Alexander

THE STUDIO MUSEUM IN HARLEM has been recognizing the potential of individual artists since 2006 with the Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize. Painter Cy Gavin is the recipient of the 2023 prize, which includes $50,000. Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum, presented the award to Gavin at the institution’s annual gala on Monday.

“Drawing inspiration from nature and the ways in which land has been shaped by histories of enslavement, resistance, and intervention,” Golden said, “Cy embodies the values of this award—great innovation, promise, and creativity.”

Gavin is from Donora, Pa. He earned an MFA from Columbia University in 2016 and lives and works in New York’s Hudson Valley. He produces large-scale landscapes defined by dramatic, gestural brushstrokes and intense, often vibrant color.

The abstracted paintings are inspired by the natural world, including his surroundings in Upstate New York. They also depict cosmic phenomena and reflect the complex backstories of historic sites and human interventions with the land.

HELD AT THE GLASS HOUSE in New York City, more than 600 people attended the gala, raising more than $3.2 million for the museum. The event also honored Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Mellon Foundation.

A major funder of the arts, Mellon was among the foundations that purchased the Johnson Publishing Company’s photography archive on behalf of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and Getty Research Institute. The foundation also supports efforts to diversify museum leadership and museum boards and train curators of color through fellowships, in addition to funding museum exhibitions and publications, capacity building at HBCU museums, and new public monuments.

Alexander is also a poet, author, and scholar, who manages the estate of artist Ficre Ghebreyesus (1962-2012), her late husband. At Washington National Cathedral, Alexander’s poem “American Song” is being carved by hand into the stone tablets beneath new stained-glass windows designed by Kerry James Marshall.

Raymond J. McGuire, chairman of the Studio Museum board, introduced her at the event. “Dr. Alexander is in the forefront of all those who both foster the arts and humanities and advocate strongly for social justice,” he said. “[The Mellon Foundation] has been a steadfast supporter of the Studio Museum for almost twenty years, and with unwavering generosity has helped ensure that our new building will rise as an indispensable gathering place for our artists and our community, and an essential cultural center for New York.”

“Drawing inspiration from nature and the ways in which land has been shaped by histories of enslavement, resistance, and intervention Cy embodies the values of this award—great innovation, promise, and creativity.” — Thelma Golden

IT IS A DYNAMIC TIME for the Studio Museum, which was founded in 1968. Its new building is under construction and for the first time in its history, the museum will be housed in a structure envisioned expressly for its purposes. In the meantime, the museum is freshening up its look, rolling out a new brand identity that is already reflected on its redesigned website. On Nov. 30, the new brand will be officially unveiled at a launch party.

Among the key ways the museum supports artists, The Wein Prize was established by George Wein (1925-2021), a philanthropist, musician, and founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, in honor of his wife Joyce Alexander (1928–2005), a stalwart trustee of the Studio Museum. Lorna Simpson was the inaugural recipient. Over the years, Glenn Ligon, Gary Simmons, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Derrick Adams, Diedrick Brackens, Torkwase Dyson, and last year’s winner Robert Pruitt, have also been honored with the prize.

Simone Leigh was the recipient in 2017. She went on to win the Hugo Boss Prize (2018) and many other accolades and opportunities. In 2022, Leigh represented the United States at the 59th Venice Biennale with a solo exhibition in the American Pavilion, becoming the first Black woman to do so. Her traveling survey opens at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on Friday.

Unique among previous the recipients of the prize, which generally recognizes artists with great promise, Gavin is already represented by a mega gallery. In April, he joined Gagosian, the largest gallery in the world in terms of its footprint, with 20 exhibition spaces in the United States, Europe, and Hong Kong. On Nov. 30, Gavin is showing new paintings at Gagosian in Rome. CT


IMAGE: Above left, Cy Gavin photographed at Gagosian Gallery, NYC. | Photo by Marco Giannavola, Courtesy the artist and Gagosian


FIND MORE In April, Gagosian announced its worldwide representation of Cy Gavin

FIND MORE in 2015, the Studio Museum in Harlem’s magazine (Studio) visited Cy Gavin in his studio and published an interview with the artist, conducted by Alex Frank


Thelma Golden, Ramond J. McGuire, and honoree Elizabeth Alexander. | Photo by Bre Johnson, BFA


Cy Gavin was among the artists featured in last year’s Whitney Biennial, co-curated by David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards. The publication “Whitney Biennial 2022: Quiet as It’s Kept” documents the Whitney Museum of American Art’s signature exhibition. “Black Refractions: Highlights from The Studio Museum in Harlem” documents 125 works from the museum’s collection and accompanied a traveling exhibition. The Studio Museum in Harlem has also published numerous additional volumes: a bounty of catalogs on the occasion of its exhibitions and a quarterly publication called Studio. “The Light of the World: A Memoir” by Elizabeth Alexander is about love and loss, a candid recollection of her joys with her husband, a great chef and father of their two sons, and the development of his artistic practice, before he died suddenly. “Ficre Ghebreyesus: City with a River Running Through” documents a solo exhibition of the artist at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. Just published, “Simone Leigh” is the first monograph of the artist.


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