Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Trevor Paglen, and Dawoud Bey Are Now MacArthur ‘Geniuses’

The artists are among 24 winners of this year's MacArthur Fellowship.

2017 MacArthur Fellows Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Trevor Paglen, and Dawoud Bey. Photo: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Three artists—Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Trevor Paglen, and Dawoud Bey—are officially geniuses. They are among the 24 winners of the 2017 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, the MacArthur Foundation announced today.

Typically awarded to around 20 American artists, academics, writers, and scientists each year, the $625,000 no-strings-attached grant is given to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction,” according to the foundation. Billed “as an investment in their potential,” the grant comes without warning and is paid out over five years.

The Nigeria-born, Los Angeles-based figurative painter Akunyili Crosby was praised by the foundation for her large-scale works that “express the hybridity characteristics of transnational experience through choices of subject matter, materials, and techniques.” Crosby’s solo exhibition at the Tang Museum in upstate New York opens this week (October 14–December 31); the Baltimore Museum will present a suite of new paintings on October 25.

The American, Berlin-based artist Paglen—who has launched a disc of images into space and investigated top-secret CIA programs—was lauded for “documenting the hidden operations of covert government projects and examining the ways that human rights are threatened in an era of mass surveillance.”

Chicago-based, New York-born Bey, a major figure in the history of African-American photography, was described as “a photographer and educator whose portraits of people, many from marginalized communities, compel viewers to consider the reality of the subjects’ own social presence and histories.”

Other fellows this year include journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, mathematician Emmanuel Candès, opera director Yuval Sharon, gender bending performer Taylor Mac, and immigration reform advocate Cristina Jiménez Moreta.

“From transforming conditions for low-wage workers to identifying internet security vulnerabilities, from celebrating the African American string band tradition to designing resilient urban habitats, these new MacArthur Fellows bring their exceptional creativity to diverse people, places, and social challenges,” Cecilia Conrad, managing director of the MacArthur Fellows Program, said in a statement. “Their work gives us reason for optimism.”

Numerous artists have been awarded MacArthur grants since the “Genius” program was initiated in 1981, including Bill Viola, David Hammons, Vija Celmins, Kerry James Marshall, Kara Walker, Mark Bradford, and Carrie Mae Weems.

It seems, however, that the committee paid slightly less attention to the visual arts this year than last. In 2016, four artists (Mary Reid Kelly, Lauren Redniss, Joyce J. Scott, and Vincent Fecteau) and one art historian (Kellie Jones) received the coveted award.

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