Nicole Eisenman and LaToya Ruby Frazier Among 24 MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant Winners

Winners receive $625,000 and can do whatever they want with it.

LaToya Ruby Frazier. Photo courtesy John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Painter Nicole Eisenman and photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier are among the 2015 class of John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant winners. The grant brings a completely unrestricted award of $625,000, paid over five years.

Eisenman, 50, “is an artist who is expanding the critical and expressive capacity of the Western figurative tradition through works that engage contemporary social issues and phenomena,” according to the foundation’s website. “Over the course of nearly four decades and working across various media, including painting, sculpture, drawing, and printmaking, Eisenman has restored to the representation of the human form a cultural significance that had waned during the ascendancy of abstraction in the twentieth century.”

The artist’s work has been included in major group exhibitions such as the Whitney Biennial (2012 and 1995) and the Carnegie International (2013). She earned a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1987.

“I paint the figure because I know the world through my body,” says Eisenman in a video on the foundation’s website, “and I understand my desires and my anxieties through my body, and the desires and anxieties of our culture.”

Nicole Eisenman.<br>Photo courtesy John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Nicole Eisenman.
Photo courtesy John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Frazier, 33, “is a photographer and video artist who uses visual autobiographies to capture social inequality and historical change in the postindustrial age,” the foundation writes in the announcement. “Informed by documentary practices from the turn of the last century, Frazier explores identities of place, race, and family in work that is a hybrid of self-portraiture and social narrative.”

Much of Frazier’s best-known work focuses on her family and friends from her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania, which is the site of Andrew Carnegie’s first steel plant, established in 1895. “I make work that deals with the intersection of the steel industry, environmental pollution, and the healthcare crisis,” says Frazier in a video produced by the foundation. “There aren’t many stories about African-American families from Braddock. There’s no recognition paid to the labor and the lives that were given to the factory and the town. Because I saw that lack and that gap, I realized that I could honor my family’s legacy, and I could honor someone like [my grandfather] and my grandmother and my mother by documenting our lives.”

An assistant professor of photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Frazier earned a BFA from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania in 2004 and went on to earn an MFA from Syracuse University in 2007. Her work has appeared in group shows like the Whitney biennial (2012), the 13th Istanbul Biennial (2013), and MoMA PS1’s “Greater New York” (2010).

Other winners this year include writers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ben Lerner, environmental engineer Kartik Chandran, and chemist Peidong Yang. Last year’s class included Houston artist Rick Lowe and cartoonist Alison Bechdel.

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