And the 2023 Sondheim Award Winner is …

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It’s hard to believe that the Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize is now in its 18th year of existence. The first Sondheim Exhibition was hosted in MICA’s Meyerhoff galleries during Artscape in 2006; multidisciplinary sculpture and performance artist Laure Drogoul was the first winner of the then-$25,000 prize, which at the time seemed astronomical in size, the first of its kind in Baltimore. Fast forward eighteen years and there are many more fellowships, grants, and opportunities to exhibit in museums for regional living artists, a testament to the influence of this award.

Each year the exhibition of Sondheim finalists (as well as another of semi-finalists) functions as a bellwether for talent in the region, offering a collective space for cutting-edge contemporary art selected by esteemed jurors, artists and curators with a global reputation and mostly from outside the region.

Hosted alternatively at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters, with one exception in 2020 when it was a virtual COVID exhibition to mixed results, this annual show is worth paying close attention to each year. And now, close two two decades in, the Sondheim boasts a long list of highly successful award winners and finalists, who were given their first museum exhibitions through the award, which is an incredibly valuable and rare opportunity for Baltimore artists, though thankfully becoming less rare.


Nekisha Durrett, Queen City (Vessels being prepped for installation), 2023, reclaimed brick, concrete, steel, handmade ceramic vessels, lighting; Abigail Lucien, Holding Your Name Like Butter in Your Palm, 2021, cocoa butter, bronze, sea salt, chicken feet, matches, soy wax, acrylic and vinyl on steel; Kyrae Dawaun, Luther, 2022, oil on wood. All artwork © the artists.

On Thursday, August 17, The Walters Art Museum, in collaboration with BOPA, presented the 18th-annual Janet & Walter Sondheim Art Prize in a live awards ceremony and an exhibition. The exhibition showcases the work of three finalists—Kyrae Dawaun, Nekisha Durrett, and Abigail Lucien—in this prestigious competition, which now awards a $30,000 fellowship to assist in furthering the career of a visual artist or visual artist collaborators living and working in the greater Baltimore region, an Italian art residency at Civitella Ranieri for second prize, and a studio residency at the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower for third place.

After introducing the finalists and thanking all the participants and donors, the 2023 Sondheim Prize winner was announced by emcee Jeffrey Kent: Abigail Lucien is the recipient of the $30,000 fellowship, Kyrae Dawaun awarded a residency at Civitella Ranieri, and Nekisha Durrett the residency at the Bromo Art Studios.

After the ceremony, the Walters hosted a reception in the sculpture court and visitors were encouraged to view the exhibition in the galleries, talk to the artists, and find out more about their work.

The Sondheim exhibition brings together artists from disciplines including painting, photography, sculpture, animation, and fiber craft. Named in honor of the philanthropists and civic leaders Janet and Walter Sondheim, the Sondheim exhibition is co-organized by the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA), which serves as the city’s arts council, events producer, and film office, in addition to organizing free city-wide events. Jurors for the 2023 competition were Kelly Baum, John and Mary Pappajohn Director of the Des Moines Art Center; Devin N. Morris, Brooklyn-based artist; and Ingrid Schaffner, Curator at Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas.


Sondheim Exhibit of Finalists at The Walters, August, 2023

For more information about the exhibit, read BmoreArt’s critical review by Fanni Somogyi and Adriana Vélez, that discussed the materials, process, and ideas that each Sondheim Finalist explores in their work. According to the authors:

“From wall-hanging sculptures forged in steel, ceramic vessels, and hand-cut magnolia leaves, to traditional oil paintings, the artworks traverse mediums and genres. The three finalists consider the problems that stem from colonialism, capitalism, and racialization—systems designed to be inhospitable—and seek forward-looking, inviting solutions where solace is found in community and shared experiences. While each artist creates unique work within their chosen media, lived experiences and historical research are common, crucial parts of their respective practices. Viewed all together, but also as three distinct exhibitions, Lucien, Durrett, and Dawaun elevate voices of liberation as a larger social force within the backdrop of an America propped up by exploitation.”

For more information about each individual finalist, you can scroll the information below and visit the exhibition which is up through September 3, 2023.


Abigail Lucien, In Practice: You may go, but this will bring you back, (installation view), curated by 2021 In Practice Curatorial Fellow Katherine Simóne Reynolds, SculptureCenter, New York, 2021, photo: Kyle Knodell
Abigail Lucien, Sondheim Exhibit of Finalists at The Walters 2023
Abigail Lucien, photo by Grace Roselli for the Pandora's BoxX Project

Abigail Lucien (b.1992) is a Haitian-American interdisciplinary artist. Working in sculpture, literature, and time-based media, Lucien’s practice addresses themes of (be)longing, futurity, myth, and place by considering our relationship to inherited colonial structures and systems of belief/care.

Lucien was named to the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 list, is a recipient of a 2021 VMFA Fellowship and the 2020 Harpo Emerging Artist Fellow. Past exhibitions include Sculpture Center (NY), MoMA PS1 (NY), MAC Panamá (Panamá), Atlanta Contemporary (Atlanta, GA), UICA (Grand Rapids, MI), and The Fabric Workshop and Museum (Philadelphia, PA).

Residencies include Amant Studio & Research Residency (NY), the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Fine Arts (Wrocław, Poland), The Luminary (St. Louis, MO), Santa Fe Art Institute (Santa Fe, NM), ACRE (Steuben, WI), and Ox-Bow School of Art & Artist Residency (Saugatuck, MI). Lucien is currently based in Baltimore, MD where they teach sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Read BmoreArt’s Art AND Studio Visit with Abigail Lucien.



Kyrae Dawaun, a confluence toward an ill delta, seen with Hamiltonian Artists @ the Kreeger Museum
Kyrae Dawaun, Sondheim Exhibit of Finalists at The Walters 2023
Kyrae Dawaun, photo by Justin Tsucalas for BmoreArt

Kyrae Dawaun was born on the edge of Queens, NY, transplanted from this affective mecca onto Baltimore, Maryland, then Washington, DC. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Corcoran College of Art + Design in 2013. His timely return to working in DC came soon after an achieved Master of Fine Art at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

He has been invited to work, reside, and exhibit in Los Angeles, Italy, Toronto, and Berlin. In 2016, Pyramid Atlantic hosted him as a Denbo Fellow and in 2017 DC Commission on Arts and Humanities awarded him an Arts and Humanities Fellowship. He has recently exhibited at Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art in Hampton Roads and Sculpture Center in Long Island City and is currently a Hamiltonian Fellow.

Read BmoreArt’s Art AND: Studio Visit with Kyrae Dawaun.



Nekisha Durrett, Frontier, from Histories Collide, currently on exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art
Nekisha Durrett, Sondheim Exhibit of Finalists at The Walters 2023
Nekisha Durrett, Photo by Farrah Skeiky via Durrett's website

Nekisha Durrett (b. 1976 | Washington, DC) is a mixed-media artist who employs the visual language of mass media to bring forward histories that objects, places, and words embody, but are not often celebrated. Her expansive practice includes public art, social practice, installation, painting, sculpture and design. Through deep research and material investigation, she finds historical traces in the present that are filled with stories easily overlooked. Her work contemplates biases and the unreliability of memory, as information is filtered over time. Durrett illuminates individual and collective histories of Black life and imagination, addressing her own younger self and the stories she wished she had learned.

Durrett holds a BFA from The Cooper Union in New York City and MFA from The University of Michigan School of Art and Design as a Horace H. Rackham Fellow. She is the Howard University Social Justice Consortium Fellow, and a finalist for the 2023 Janet and Walter Sondheim Art Prize. Durrett has recently been awarded the commission for the ARCH Project at Bryn Mawr College in partnership with Monument Lab and is in production on Queen City, 35’ tall “vessel” in Arlington, VA that pays homage to 903 individuals displaced for the construction of the Pentagon in 1941.

Read more about Durrett’s BMA Commission, BmoreArt review forthcoming.



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