Deana Lawson, Professor of Visual Arts, was named the winner of the 2020 Hugo Boss Prize in October. She is the first photographer to be awarded the prize.
The award, established in 1996 by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and Hugo Boss, is awarded every two years. Lawson will receive a $100,000 award and present a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York alongside the honor.
Winners are determined by a panel of museum directors, curators, and critics, and selected without restrictions on medium, age, or background. In a press release, Thomas Krens, former director of the Guggenheim Foundation, said the award seeks to “embrace today’s most innovative and critically relevant cultural currents.”
Lawson’s work explores selfhood through a corporeal dimension. According to her biography on the Lewis Center for the Arts website, “her photographs speak to the ways that sexuality, violence, family, and social status may be written, sometimes literally, on the body.”
Within photography, she uses a variety of mediums to explore these themes, including staged photos, loose documentary, photos provided to her by her subjects, or images she finds in the media.
In addition to receiving the Hugo Boss Prize this year, Lawson was honored at the annual International Center for Photography (ICP) Spotlights benefit, which works to highlight women in photography.
ICP noted Lawson’s choice of subject matter in its announcement:
“Lawson meets her subjects in everyday walks of life: grocery stores, subway trains, busy avenues in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and road trips taken to the American south.”
Lawson’s work has been displayed in the 2017 Whitney Biennial and the Museum of Modern Art’s (MOMA) “New Photography 2011” exhibition. In 2015, her work was displayed in a solo exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago. Additionally, Lawson’s photographs have been included in multiple publications, including The New Yorker, TIME Magazine, BOMB, and The Collector’s Guide To New Art Photography.
In 2013, Lawson received the Guggenheim Fellowship, giving her the opportunity to photograph around the world. She has photographed subjects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Jamaica, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Brazil.
Her Guggenheim Foundation page explains, “Lawson is visually inspired by the materiality of black culture and its expression as seen through the body and in domestic environments.”
She has also received the John Gutmann Photography Fellowship, a Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant, an Aaron Siskind Fellowship Grant, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Grant.
In addition to her solo exhibition in the Guggenheim Museum, Lawson’s work is to be displayed in other upcoming exhibitions. In September 2021, she has an exhibition in the Bienal de São Paulo in Brazil, and a museum survey in ICA that will open in 2021.
Lawson was born in Rochester, N.Y., in 1979. She received her B.F.A. from Pennsylvania State University, and her M.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2004. She began teaching at the University in 2012.