2021 Warhol Writers Grantees Include Baltimore-based Sarah-Neel Smith and DC-based Kriston Capps

Previous Story
Article Image

BmoreArt’s Picks: November 30 – December 6

Next Story
Article Image

The News: ‘Off-Ramp’ for Mask Mandate [...]

Today, the Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant announced its 2021 grantees, which include two notable writers from the Baltimore-Washington region. The program supports critical writing about contemporary art each year, and is awarding a total of $695,000 to 20 writers in 2021. Administered by Creative Capital, the program offers three categories of project grants—articles ($15,000), books ($50,000), and short-form writing series ($30,000)—meant to counteract the systemic lack of funding for arts writing and to recognize its significant cultural value. According to a Creative Capital press release, “these grants support projects addressing both general and specialized art audiences, from short reviews for magazines and newspapers to in-depth scholarly studies.”

Pradeep Dalal, Director of the Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant, characterizes many of this year’s grantees as geographically diverse with an international reach. “Emphasizing the role of artist communities, with practices that cover literally every continent, these projects speak to the desire for exchanges that cross borders as well as those that establish connections across uncharted ‘South-South’ axes, rather than falling back on European or American art histories,” says Dalal.

Sarah-Neel Smith, photo: Tina Krohn Photo

Baltimore-based Sarah-Neel Smith, a MICA professor and author of the forthcoming Metrics of Modernity: Art and Development in Postwar Turkey, (February 2022, University of California Press), was selected for a $50k book grant. Via phone call, Smith says she will use the funding to write her next book, with the working title of Envisioning the Middle East: The Lost History of America’s Cultural Exchanges, 1952-1979. Her writing has appeared in Art Journal, ARTMargins, Third Text, Bidoun, and frieze.

Smith is a graduate of Smith College and holds a PhD in Art History from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has taught full-time in MICA’s Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism since 2015 and focuses her teaching practice around modern and contemporary art. “I am looking at well-known American artists from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s from the perspective of their travels through the Middle East,” Smith says about her second book. “We know how appropriation worked for early-20th-century modernists like Picasso and Matisse, but we don’t have the same context for late modernists. For example, it’s not common knowledge that Islamic calligraphy inspired Frank Stella’s abstract paintings.” 

According to Smith, Envisioning the Middle East will be a revisionist account of the work of seven American artists who visited North Africa and the Middle East in the early decades of the Cold War, including Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Helen Frankenthaler, Cy Twombly, and Andy Warhol. Smith says she wants her book “to challenge hermetic, nationalist understandings of ‘American art’ by recentering the transcultural dynamics of political expansionism and cultural encounter.” 

Drawing on an extensive archive of unpublished documents from archives across the country, including photos, sketchbooks, notebooks, and travel diaries, Smith’s goal is to “uncover a series of lost histories—histories of soft power and neo-imperialism, discovery and appropriation—that continue to shape the contemporary art world today.” The author says she is interested in combating the story in art history that New York and Paris were the only cities that mattered in terms of modern and contemporary art, explaining that there were other international art worlds that have been left out of the art historical canon.

While she applies for many academic grants each year, Smith described the Warhol grant as “transformative.” She plans to use some of the funding for domestic travel to national archives and to visit the sites in North Africa and the Middle East that influenced the artists she is writing about.

Kriston Capps

In contrast to Smith’s book project, journalist and culture writer Kriston Capps received his $30,000 grant for short-form writing, which the Warhol grant intends as support for “the ongoing practice of writers who regularly produce short texts that respond to current exhibitions, events, and issues in contemporary visual art.” Texts range from 250 to 1,500 words, and qualifying writers publish at least one text per month in print or online publishing platforms. 

Based in Washington, DC, Capps is a staff writer at CityLab, part of the Bloomberg News network, where he reports on architecture, housing, and the built environment. He has written about art and culture since 2002 for the Washington City Paper, Washington Post, Artforum, Hyperallergic, New Yorker, and a number of other publications. 

Capps says he has applied for the Warhol Writers Grant multiple times over several years, but this time his application felt more urgent, more organic. “In past applications, I write about the lack of critical art writing in DC, looking broadly at the media landscape here,” he says by phone. “This time, I focused on the politics shaping public art right now and the application flowed directly from what I have been writing about over the last year or so.” Much of his reporting on architecture for Bloomberg CityLab touches on some of the same issues—like Trump’s “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” order, questioning the Commission of Fine Arts, or controversy at museums on the National Mall, which overlaps with his proposal for the 2021 Warhol award.

“Public art was an unusually charged issue in 2020,” Capps explains. “Activists on the left, especially Black Lives Matter, were taking down more and more Confederate monuments, and so many Christopher Columbus statues fell. While president, Donald Trump wanted to build a National Garden of American Heroes, like a ‘US Social Studies Hall of Fame.’ His administration banned modernism for federal buildings. It was a steady emergency of stories and I’ve never used the verb ‘toppling’ more often.”

Capps says that right now is a great time to be writing about public art, and he has spent the last year caught up in this sweeping moment, where so many public monuments are being taken down and cities are thinking more carefully about what monuments should or could look like. “National publications aren’t necessarily interested in what democracy looks like from the ground in the District, but I plan to focus on DC artists who are on the front lines of the culture wars unfolding in DC,” says the writer, who believes it is essential that artists reflect and respond to issues facing democracy. 

Recent articles by Capps include Art and Protest in the Capital (Artforum), a review of Lynda Andrews Barry at the Arlington Art Center (Washington Post), Kehinde Wiley’s Anti-Confederate Memorial (New Yorker), and how a controversial Trump-era protection enacted for monuments is still being used by Homeland Security to spy on US citizens (Bloomberg CityLab). For contemporary DC-based artists deserving press and attention for their projects, Capps’ Warhol grant is a huge gift. He says that the grant will enable him to write more deeply about their work in the region for a variety of publications.


Related Stories
Baltimore art news updates from independent & regional media

New fiber art exhibition at the Renwick, The Phillips Collection 2024-25 exhibition schedule, BMA announces environmental initiatives, Charles Mason III, Preakness future, Everyman Theatre's "Midsummer," FPCT's upcoming season, Golden West, and MICA - News from local and independent media sources.

Preakness Photos by E. Brady Robinson

Along with weird horse names and laying a bet, the fashion at Preakness and other Triple Crown races is oddly traditional, a pageant of who's who in pastel suits, bowties, fancy hats, and floral dresses.

The best weekly art openings, events, and calls for entry happening in Baltimore and surrounding areas.

This Week:  Jerrell Gibbs at James Cohan NYC, artists reception + awards presentation for UMBC's 2024 Visual Arts Senior Exhibition, The Black Artist Fair's Grantwriting Basics – The Black AF Edition, Open Critique w/ Schroeder Cherry at Creative Alliance, Arvay Adams opening reception and more!

After 180 applicants, Baltimore's last five mayors have selected their choices for official portraits by Baltimore-based artists

The Baltimore Mayoral Portrait Competition has selected Ernest Shaw Jr., Kennedy Ringgold, Gaia, Megan Lewis, and Karen Warshal for $20,000 commissions