Zoe Leonard Wins Whitney’s Bucksbaum Award With Her Giant Camera Obscura

Zoe Leonard, 945 Madison Avenue (2014), installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Photo: Bill Jacobson Studio, New York,courtesy the artist, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Murray Guy, and Galleria Raffaella Cortese.

New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art has named Zoe Leonard as the winner of the eighth Bucksbaum Award. She was chosen from the 103 participants in this year’s Whitney Biennial, on view through May 25. The award comes with a $100,000 grant and the opportunity for Leonard to present a solo exhibition at the Whitney before the next Biennial (which will take place in 2017).

The award, presented every two years to one of the participants in the Whitney Biennial, was established by Whitney trustee Melva Bucksbaum and her family in 2000. Choreographer Sarah Michelson is the most recent winner, for her performance Devotion Study #1—The American Dancer.

In 945 Madison Avenue, her contribution to the exhibition, Leonard used a window on the fourth floor to transform a large room into a camera obscura. The naturally occurring phenomenon is usually displayed on a much smaller scale, but by covering the windows save for a tiny aperture, the artist was able to project an inverted image of the Madison Avenue streetscape outside thr Whitney through a small lens in the window and onto the far wall, floor, and ceiling.

Leonard, who has been creating site-specific camera obscura works since 2011, was inspired to install one at the Whitney by the architecture of the museum’s Marcel Breuer-designed building (which it will be abandoning for its new downtown home, opening next spring). Breuer once wrote that a museum building “should have a visual connection to the street.”

Known for her work in photography, film, and sculpture, Leonard also participated in the 1993 and 1997 Whitney biennials. Her work has appeared in Documenta IX (1992) and Documenta XII (2007) in Kassel, Germany, and in solo exhibitions at such institutions as the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1998); Dia: Beacon (2008); and Camden Arts Centre, London (2012).

The museum will honor Leonard at the Bucksbaum Award ceremony at the Whitney on Wednesday, May 21.

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