THE STUDIO MUSEUM IN HARLEM’S 2018 Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize has been awarded to Diedrick Brackens. The Los Angeles-based textile artist is recognized for his tapestries and innovative weaving techniques. His selection was announced by Thelma Golden at the museum’s 50th anniversary gala this evening at the Park Avenue Armory. The annual prize includes $50,000.
Employing the traditional practice of weaving, Brackens explores social, political and personal issues, including what he describes as his blackness and queerness, through a contemporary lens. He makes wall hangings, sculptures, and installations that weigh matters of race, representation, class, gender, and sexuality.
Brackens has created derivatives of the American flag, abstracted works that reference marginalized communities and the current state of democracy and politics in the United States. He also addresses queer identity, on both a macro and personal level, in a series of “bandage” works which serve as symbols of healing and care in the face of oppression and hurt.
Another body of work presented in “Diedrick Brackens: a slow reckoning,” his recent solo exhibition at the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University, is defined by reflective surfaces. The works call to mind the harm that can stem from “the gaze” and looking, as well as notions of self love “and how gestures of deflection are often necessary in the goal of self-preservation.”
Connie Choi, associate curator at the Studio Museum, told me Brackens had been on the curatorial team’s radar and that a studio visit with the artist during Made in L.A. 2018 further piqued their interest. Brackens was among the 33 artists featured in the Hammer Museum’s biennial.
“The way that he speaks about his practice and his overall thoughtfulness to the craft was really interesting,” she said. “Thinking about weaving as something where you constantly have to learn—learning new techniques, constantly refining, and trying out different types of looms and different types of making—this constant process of learning for him, but also his inquisitiveness in learning and understanding more about weaving and textile making was something that really struck us.”
“The way that he speaks about his practice and his overall thoughtfulness to the craft was really interesting …his inquisitiveness in learning and understanding more about weaving and textile making was something that really struck us.” — Curator Connie Choi
DIEDRICK BRACKENS, “sleep don’t come easy,” 2016 (woven cotton, nylon, and chenille yarn, 61 x 52 inches / 154.9 x 132.1 cm). | Courtesy Steve Turner Gallery
Choi said the curators were also drawn to his ability to make both figurative and highly abstract works and deftly balance the tension between the two approaches.
“In terms of his figurative work, thinking about how he is often inspired by real-life events that have happened either to him or those close to him, or to those in his surrounding community, he’s always embedding them with layers of references,” Choi said.
“He is also thinking about mythical creatures, the symbolism of different types of animals, and religious symbols, kind of layering on these meanings to work that appears deceptively simple, but then when you think about the actual physicality of making them, it becomes really even more interesting.”
For the biennial, the artist presented a new series of figurative textiles that featured hand-dyed fabrics. The works referenced family histories and childhood memories creating images that read as both real and fictional narratives.
The Made in L.A. catalog emphasized the technical aspects of his practice:
From a formal perspective, across his larger practice Brackens carefully hand weaves every object with calculated algorithms that stem from the cultural history of each technique. These algorithms inform the thread count, coloring, and overall patterning of the works. He often blends West African weaving and European textiles into a single piece to highlight the complexities of identity, especially as it relates to being African American, and the complicated histories and intersections that give birth to a group of people.
BRACKENS WAS BORN in Mexia, Texas. He received his BFA from the University of North Texas, Denton (2011) and earned an MFA from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco (2014).
He was first encouraged to engage with weaving as an undergraduate by a professor who noticed his use of textiles in his sculpture. At her behest, he enrolled in a fiber course.
“Primarily I work with cotton,” Brackens has said. “I am attracted to the material It’s got a long history that is both beautiful and violent, particularly in the U.S. So for me it is particularly important to employ that material.”
“Primarily I work with cotton. I am attracted to the material It’s got a long history that is both beautiful and violent, particularly in the U.S.”
— Diedrick Brackens
Installation view of works by Diedrick Bracken at Made in L.A. 2018, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. | via Hammer Museum
The thirteenth recipient of the Wein Artist Prize, Brackens is in good company. Previous winners have gone on to a wide range of opportunities to pursue their visions:
2017 Simone Leigh
2016 Derrick Adams
2015 Njideka Akunyili Crosby
2014 Samuel Levi Jones
2013 Gary Simmons
2012 Jennie C. Jones
2011 Leonardo Drew
2010 Leslie Hewitt
2009 Glenn Ligon
2008 Nadine Robinson
2007 Trenton Doyle Hancock
2006 Lorna Simpson
Last year’s recipient, Simone Leigh, has an exhibition on view at Luhring Augustine gallery in New York through Oct. 20. Debuting in April 2016, her monumental sculpture “Brick House” is the first commission for the High Line Plinth. This evening, the Guggenheim Museum announced Leigh won the 2018 Hugo Boss Prize.
Leigh’s multidisciplinary practice centers around ceramics which, similar to Bracken’s concentration on weaving (often considered “women’s work”), is not a medium traditionally celebrated in the fine art world. The Wein prize generally goes to an emerging artist, such as Brackens, but ultimately the goal is to support an artist whose ideas and work deserve greater attention.
“If you look at the list of past Wein Prize winners, the names vary in terms of their recognition across the wider art world. Simone Leigh, the recipient last year, is someone who had slowly been building a career, but really kind of has blown up in the last couple years,” Choi said. “We are thinking about ways in which we can support artists. Sometimes they’re much more emerging than others, but finding a way to both celebrate the work that they have done, thus far, and providing them with a real means of support in order to ensure that they can continue doing the work they have been doing.”
“We are thinking about ways in which we can support artists. …Finding a way to both celebrate the work that they have done, thus far, and providing them with a real means of support in order to ensure that they can continue doing the work they have been doing.” — Curator Connie Choi
Timing matters, too. Two works by Brackens are entering the Studio Museum’s collection for the first time through a recent bequest by the late philanthropist and collector Peggy Cooper Cafritz. The acquisition dovetailed with a couple of other factors that worked to the advantage of Brackens.
“As a department we are always looking at artists, going to galleries, seeing shows and exhibitions, and thinking about artists we want to engage with. Those types of engagements vary. Sometimes it’s for exhibitions. Sometimes it’s for site-specific projects. Sometimes it’s just for acquisitions and other times it’s thinking about are there artists we haven’t engaged with in any way yet, but we want to come up with a way and an appropriate project to work with them,” Choi said.
“Diedrick was an artist that wasn’t in our collection yet, but also we hadn’t engaged with, but that would be entering the collection soon, and seeing his work, it all kind of coalesced. It made sense at that moment and sometimes it’s as simple as that. All of these various factors aligning to bring an artist to the top of the list for this particular prize.” CT
TOP IMAGE: DIEDRICK BRACKENS, “in the decadence of silence,” 2018 (cotton and acrylic yarn, 72 x 72 inches / 182.9 x 182.9 cm). | Courtesy Steve Turner Gallery
READ MORE about Diedrick Brackens on his website
“Made in L.A. 2018” documents the Hammer Museum biennial in Los Angeles and features contributions by co-curators Erin Christovale and Anne Ellegood, as well as Tisa Bryant and Ann Philbin, the museum’s director who wrote the foreword. In addition, it highlights the work of the 33 artists featured in the exhibition, including Diedrick Brackens.
Diedrick Brackens talks about his practice which centers around textiles and weaving. He is an assistant professor at the California State University Long Beach, where he is head of the fiber program in the School of Art. | Video by QVoiceNews
DIEDRICK BRACKENS, “how to return,” 2017 (woven indigo-dyed cotton and acrylic yarn, 58 x 50 inches / 147.3 x 127 cm). | Courtesy Steve Turner Gallery
DIEDRICK BRACKENS, “a field to frolic,” 2017 (hand-woven cotton, mirrored acrylic, 71 x 69 inches / 180.3 x 175.3 cm). | Courtesy Steve Turner Gallery
DIEDRICK BRACKENS, Detail of “a field to frolic,” 2017 (hand-woven cotton, mirrored acrylic, 71 x 69 inches / 180.3 x 175.3 cm). | Courtesy Steve Turner Gallery
DIEDRICK BRACKENS, “opening tombs beneath the heart,” 2018 (cotton and acrylic yarn, 79 x 72 inches / 200.7 x 182.9 cm). | Courtesy Steve Turner Gallery
DIEDRICK BRACKENS, “bitter attendance, drown jubilee,” 2018 (woven cotton, acrylic yarn and polyester organza, 72 x 72 inches / 182.9 x 182.9 cm). | Courtesy Steve Turner Gallery
DIEDRICK BRACKENS, Detail of “bitter attendance, drown jubilee,” 2018 (woven cotton, acrylic yarn and polyester organza, 72 x 72 inches / 182.9 x 182.9 cm). | Courtesy Steve Turner Gallery
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