Beginning Thursday, the Walters Art Museum will exhibit the work of three finalists vying for one of Maryland’s most prestigious art awards, the Janet & Walter Sondheim Art Prize.
For the first time, the grand prize is $30,000, up from $25,000 in previous years. Second and third place winners will also receive prizes, another first for the awards program.
This year’s exhibition, which runs from July 21 to September 18, is the first time since 2019 that the museum has had an in-person exhibition of the finalists’ work. In 2020 and 2021, the awards program was transitioned to a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is my great pleasure to greet you this morning,” Julia Marciari-Alexander, executive director and CEO of Walters, said at a news conference on Wednesday. “We haven’t done that for a long time… This is an award that is truly among the most prestigious in our region and even nationally.”
The Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts (BOPA) presents the annual award in partnership with the museum, M&T Bank and the Maryland State Arts Council. Named for two civic leaders who have been strong advocates for the arts and Baltimore, the award is presented “to further the career of a visual artist or associate of a visual artist who lives and works in the Baltimore area.”
According to CEO Donna Drew Sawyer, BOPA received more than 300 applications this year. The group was narrowed down to 13 semifinalists and then three finalists. A winner will be announced during a reception at Walters on July 28 from 6-8pm
The 2022 Sondheim Art Prize finalists are: Maren Henson, 32; Megan Koeppel, 26, and James Williams II, 40. Williams was a semifinalist last year, but Henson and Koeppel were neither finalists nor semifinalists before. All three are graduates of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).
The three artists deal with very different topics.
Henson examines the role of conspiracy and how it shaped American culture. Her videos, drawings, sculptures and sound installations show how cultural narratives are manipulated and controlled after incidents such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Henson received a master’s degree from Mount Royal School of Art at MICA in 2017 and resides in Baltimore.
Koeppel is a fiber artist who was born in Wisconsin and earned a bachelor’s degree from MICA in 2018, where she studied fine arts and curatorial practices. Her work in the Sondheim exhibition involves reusing materials such as leftover fabric to create new quilted works and soft sculptures.
Williams is a curator and interdisciplinary artist whose work spans painting, sculpture, and photography. His works focus on issues related to social and cultural identity in the United States, interconnected through self-portraiture and narrative. He says he “uses satire and visual counter-speech to challenge the ambiguity of the black construct as object and abject.” Originally from upstate New York, he received his master’s degree from Mount Royal School of Art at MICA, where he currently teaches.
The competition was judged by curator Catherine Morris and artists Kambui Olujimi and Jean Shin. Lou Joseph is BOPA’s Awards and Competitions Manager.
In addition to the main prize, BOPA will award residencies to the remaining two finalists. The artist who finishes second will receive a six-week, fully funded residency at Civitella Ranieri in the Italian region of Umbria, and the artist who finishes third will receive a six-month residency at the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower at 21 S. Eutaw Str .in Baltimore.
The other 10 semi-finalists will have the opportunity to exhibit their work at the School 33 Art Center at 1427 Light Street from September 1st to October 30th.
Sawyer said she hopes to keep the grand prize at $30,000 from now on, but that will ultimately depend on the support of her partners. She said the prize money has been increased in part to cover the rising cost of materials artists use in their work and other expenses artists have incurred since the pandemic began.
“The Baltimore Office of Promotion and The Arts is keenly aware of the increased costs of art production and the pressure of art production,” she said. “We are committed to ensuring that the Sondheim Award … has a significant impact on an artist’s career.”
Opening hours for the Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles St., are Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Thursday from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Admission is free.