2024 David C. Driskell Prize Recipient Naomi Beckwith reflects on the meaning of the honor and the legendary contributions of its namesake. | Video by High Museum of Art.


A CURATOR AND ART HISTORIAN, Naomi Beckwith has made remarkable strides in the museum world. After formative roles at the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, she joined the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York as deputy director and chief curator in 2021, becoming the highest ranking Black person in the museum’s history. Beckwith is a member of the institution’s executive leadership team and oversees exhibitions, collections, publications, curatorial programming, and archives.

Winning the 2024 David C. Driskell Prize is her latest achievement. Established in honor of the late art historian David C. Driskell (1931-2020), the $50,000 prize is awarded annually by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta to an artist, curator, or scholar in recognition of outstanding contributions to the field of African American art.

On the occasion of the recognition, Beckwith reflected on her early exposure to art growing up one block away from what is now known as The DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, on the South Side of Chicago, which she called “an area absolutely rich in art and culture, but especially Black art history and culture.” In the video above, she also considered the role of a curator, influencing art history, and the meaning of the Driskell Prize:

    When you’re starting out in this field as a baby curator, there are a handful of iconic Black curators that you look toward, people like Lowery Stokes Sims, Thelma Golden, but there’s absolutely no way to work around the legacy of David Driskell. He left the example of how to recast history, not just art history, but really talk about the arc of time and the ways in which Black people are so often excluded from historical stories that we need to go back and resurface that presence.

    When I got this call from Rand Suffolk (director of the High Museum of Art) about being the latest Driskell Prize honoree, I really thought, it’s wonderful always to be admired by peers or acknowledged by peers, whoever they may be in the field. So you sit and you go to the dinners, and it’s all—it’s all quite lovely. But when you understand that your people see you, that is the biggest honor.

    Black people are critical, as they should be. Black people can be cynical, as they should be. Black people keep their eye on you, and they watch you, as they should be, because they care. And to understand that I have been on the receiving end of amazing care and to be acknowledged by someone who’s a tough critic and who understands the work that needs to be done and who says kudos for doing the work means everything.

Beckwith shared her thoughts while walking through “By Way Of: Material and Motion in the Guggenheim Collection,” featuring works by artists David Hammons, Senga Nengudi, Anthony Akinbola, and Rashid Johnson, among others. She organized the exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York, where it is on view through Jan. 12, 2025.

Previous Driskell Prize winners include artists Mark Bradford, Amy Sherald, and Ebony G. Patterson; and curators and scholars Kellie Jones, Valerie Cassel Oliver, Naima J. Keith, and Huey Copeland. The 19th recipient, Beckwith was honored at a gala at the High Museum on April 26. CT


Naomi Beckwith has published many volumes. Key among them, she co-authored the exhibition catalogs “Howardena Pindell: What Remains To Be Seen” and “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Any Number of Preoccupations,” and co-edited “The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now.” Beckwith also edited the catalog for Duro Olowu’s MCA Chicago exhibition “Seeing Chicago” and co-edited the exhibition catalog “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America (from Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter).” She has also contributed to several other volumes, including “Lorna Simpson: Revised & Expanded Edition” (Phaidon Contemporary Artists Series) and “Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art.”


Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is an independent editorial project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for Your Support.