Collectors Suzanne Deal Booth and Glenn Fuhrman on Why They Teamed Up For a Major Art Prize

The duo discuss the evolution of the prestigious Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize.

Installation view of "Lubaina Himid: Make Do and Mend" (2024). Photo: Alex Boeschenstein. Courtesy of the Contemporary Austin.

This week, it was announced that the next Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize has been awarded to American artist Sable Elyse Smith for 2026. Initially founded in 2016 by Suzanne Deal Booth, and expanded in partnership with collector Glenn Fuhrman in 2018, the Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize is administered by the Contemporary Austin and awarded every two years to an artist selected by an independent, rotating advisory committee. The prize includes a $200,000 award as well as the full production of a solo exhibition at the Contemporary Austin, which subsequently travels to the FLAG Art Foundation in New York.

Former FLAG art foundation prize winner Lubaina Himid's exhibition wall text at the contemporary austin.

Installation view of “Lubaina Himid: Make Do and Mend” (2024). Photo: Alex Boeschenstein. Courtesy of the Contemporary Austin.

The 2024 edition of the prize was awarded to Lubaina Himid, an artist originally from Zanzibar and currently based in the U.K. and whose practice explores the capacity for storytelling through painting, and homing in on marginalized histories. Himid’s solo exhibition, “Make Do and Mend,” on view through July 21, 2024, debuts two new bodies of work made in dialogue with the Contemporary Austin’s Jones Center. Staged across two floors, the first features a series of ten figurative “Strategy Paintings,” featuring Black men and women around tables engaging with specific problems reflected in the arrangement of objects before them. On the second floor, 64 carefully arranged plank paintings, Aunties (2024), reference East African funerary objects.

In light of Himid’s exhibition and the announcement of Smith as the newest winner, we spoke with Deal Booth and Fuhrman to learn more about the founding and evolution of the prize, as well as what they—and the artists—have been able to accomplish.

Suzanne Deal Booth and FLAG Art Foundation Prize founders portraits side by side, on the left a blonde woman wearing tinted eyeglasses and a broad striped shirt in black and pea green, on the right a white man wearing a light purple button down and black blazer.

Left: Suzanne Deal Booth. Photo: Dagny Piasecki. Right: Glenn Fuhrman.

What initially inspired you to found the Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize in 2016?

Suzanne Deal Booth: For me, this all started with questioning what it would take to enhance the cultural arts experience for the immediate Austin community, and to have its core impulses reflect the Contemporary Austin.

My field is in the preservation of artistic and cultural heritage, focused most recently on the safekeeping of endangered sites, works of art, and traditions. In my life I have always had a deep connection with artists, creative agencies, and arts communities.

When I came to Austin 14 years ago, I wanted to bring and encourage innovative exchanges across the arts on local, national, and global levels here in Austin. I wanted to shine a spotlight on my new hometown.

Austin is young and creative—a town that has been traditionally known for its university, academia, and educational atmosphere, state government, and music festivals. I thought that in this primed environment, if a cultural spark was lit, it might ignite and explode into all sorts of magical and unimaginable ways.

Can you discuss what motivated or inspired the evolution of the Suzanne Deal Booth Art Prize to the Suzanne Deal Booth / Flag Art Foundation Prize in 2018?

SDB: I have always been a firm believer in collaboration. By embracing rather than excluding we can open new portals and promote an open and dynamic community—one which is tolerant and inclusive and attracts more creatives to participate in new, vibrant, and exciting ways of thinking and seeing.

It was a real pleasure when I was approached by Glenn Fuhrman to collaborate and transform the existing Suzanne Deal Booth Prize into the Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize. The expansion connects the Contemporary Austin with The FLAG Art Foundation, broadening the scope and visibility of the prize, and links the two great cities of Austin and New York.

Installation view of “Lubaina Himid: Make Do and Mend” (2024). Photo: Alex Boeschenstein. Courtesy of the Contemporary Austin.

From your perspective, what was the driving force behind your decision to join forces with Suzanne and expand the Prize in 2018?

Glenn Fuhrman: I knew Louis Grachos, the Contemporary Austin’s former director, well and had done some projects with him before. I also knew Suzanne Deal Booth, though not as well. I respected how both were committed to championing Austin as a center for contemporary art. While at one point I had considered starting my own prize through the FLAG Art Foundation, partnering with an institution on an already established and respected award, and being able to double the financial resources and add a second exhibition venue in New York, seemed like an obvious move to me, which has proved itself over the last four cycles of the Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize. I was very excited when Suzanne immediately reacted with excitement when I reached out with the idea of joining forces. That embrace of partnership was an immediate sign that we would create something special together, which I very much believe we have done.

Installation view of “Lubaina Himid: Make Do and Mend” (2024). Photo: Alex Boeschenstein. Courtesy of the Contemporary Austin.

How does the prize fit within the greater context of the Contemporary Austin? What makes this museum the perfect partner for the prize?

SDB: The Contemporary Austin is an ideal partner for the Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize as it is this city’s leading institution for seeing the work by the most defining visionaries of today, whether well established artists or those that are just emerging. The Jones Center, the Contemporary Austin’s downtown gallery, is a perfect venue for the prize’s exhibitions and brings fresh perspectives right to the core of the city, a few blocks away from the State Capitol.

How does the prize fit within the greater context of the FLAG Art Foundation?

GF: The FLAG Art Foundation’s mission is intentionally broad; our exhibitions, public programs, and institutional collaborations are all meant to encourage the appreciation of contemporary art. FLAG often works with outside curators, from a range of disciplines and backgrounds, to create shows that are always of the highest caliber and always free and open to the public. I look at this Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize through that same lens. We work with an accomplished, international jury of curators and professionals to ultimately award an artist, whose practice we feel would benefit from this level of support and attention, with the extraordinary opportunity to present their work to audiences in two great cities, Austin and New York.

Can you tell a bit about the recently announced prize winner?

SDB: I’m thrilled with the selection of our newest Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize winner, Sable Elyse Smith, who is a stellar example of an artist who is poised to expand her repertoire and experiment with new horizons. She is at a pivotal point in her life and career where this award can provide and encourage transformational thinking about her practice. The prize will be important for her career because she will have two solo exhibitions and a catalog that documents her work as a scholarly publication. I’m thrilled she will have this larger platform to show her vision and share her unique perspective.

Sable Elyse Smith. Photo: Tommy Kha.

Sable Elyse Smith. Photo: Tommy Kha.

GF: It was clear from the beginning of jury deliberations that everyone was excited about Sable’s practice. Each artwork or installation she creates is a starting point for further conversations about individual and collective experiences within social constructs, namely the U.S. prison system in much of her recent work. Sable’s ominous ferris wheel made of metal tables used in prison visiting rooms was a highlight of the 2022 Whitney Biennial “Quiet as It’s Kept,” and her “Coloring Books” series is quietly heartbreaking. I was especially pleased to see her selection as criminal justice reform has been an area of focus for our family’s philanthropy for a long time. We were founding members of Aggie Gund’s “Art for Justice Fund,” for example. I cannot wait to see what Sable does with this opportunity.

What are some of the ways winning the prize impacts or influences an artist’s practice or career?

GF: At its core, the prize is meant to be transformational for the winner. For some, that has meant the opportunity to present their work and ideas in new regions and institutions, reaching new audiences, and fostering fresh dialogues. For others, that has meant the chance to make an entirely new body of work, utilizing the support and resources of the Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize and our joint institutions. Ultimately, the prize has carved out space for artists to create exciting bodies of work and explore exhibition and publication-making in a way that feels authentic to their own practices and visions.

Learn more about the Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize here.

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