From the appointment of the first Black woman to occupy the US pavilion at the Venice Biennale, to the controversy surrounding the unveiling of a new ‘#MeToo’ statue, here are some of the topics from this week in the arts.

National Award for Disabled Artists launches in the US

The Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation have partnered to develop Disability Futures — a new initiative created by, for and with disabled practitioners. The prize is administered by United States Artists, awarding 20 disabled creatives with a fellowship and grant of $50,000 each ($1 million in total) to advance their practices.

According to the Ford Foundation: “Disability Futures aims to shed light on the dearth of visibility of disabled creatives and position these creatives as leaders for accessibility, language, and care. Our hope is to spur additional attention, engagement, and support  for disability-led content, productions, and projects in the years to come.”

Among the first cohort of 20 fellows — who were nominated by disabled practitioners — are Brooklyn-based filmmaker, writer, and activist Tourmaline; Berlin-based  multidisciplinary artist Christine Sun Kim; Brooklyn-based multi-media artist and activist Navild Acosta; and San Francisco-based journalist and founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project® (DVP), Alice Wong.

Komunuma announces surrogate FIAC 2020 event featuring five international galleries

The art-and-culture complex, Komunuma — based in the Paris suburbs — has initiated Hospitalites, following the cancellation of FIAC 2020 due to Covid-19. Five international galleries have been invited to exhibit their FIAC 2020 booths in the spaces of the four galleries on site at Komunuma.

Participating galleries include LambdaLambdaLambda (Prishtina, Brussels), Archiraar (Brussels), Barbara Wien (Berlin), ProjecteSD (Barcelona), and Marfa’ (Beirut).

The event is free, but registration is required online. The exhibitions will run next week, from October 21 to 25.

Luciano Garbati’s controversial Medusa with the Head of Perseus unveiled in NYC

On Tuesday, a seven-foot-tall bronze statue of Medusa holding the head of Perseus was unveiled in Lower Manhattan, outside of the New York County Criminal Court — where Harvey Weinstein was tried and sentenced for rape and sexual assault earlier this year. The statue is by Argentine-Italian artist Luciano Garbati, cast in bronze by Vanessa Solomon of Carbon Sculpt Studios in Red Hook, Brooklyn and Laran Bronze Foundry in Philadelphia. It is presented by the artist-led MWTH project as part of NYC Parks Department’s Art in the Parks program. According to MWTH’s website: “Garbati’s Medusa questions the mythic figure’s characterization as a monster, and investigates the woman behind the myth.”

Adopted by some as a symbol of the #MeToo movement in 2018, after Garbati had posted his original Medusa statue on Instagram (an inversion of Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus with the Head of Medusa (1545–54)), the work and its installation have also raised many questions. Among them: why has a male artist been given this platform?

Further criticism concerns the naked woman’s idealized form and lack of pubic hair. And many have questioned why Medusa is not holding the head of her rapist (Poseidon) instead. As reported in ARTnews, feminist activist Wagatwe Wanjuki also pointed out that the #MeToo movement was started by a Black woman and further questioned the centering of a European figure in the conversation.

5 joint winners of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020 announced

As announced in The Art Newspaper, the Art Fund Museum of the Year is the biggest arts award in the UK. In response to the challenges and financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, this year the total prize money was increased to £200,000 (from £100,000) and equally distributed among five winners.

This year’s winners are Aberdeen Art Gallery, Gairloch Museum, the Science Museum, South London Gallery and Towner Eastbourne. The selection was made by Art Fund’s director, Jenny Waldman; artist Ryan Gander; Jago Cooper, curator of the Americas at the British Museum; Melanie Keen, director of the Wellcome Collection; and Liz Forgan, trustee of the Art Fund.

Simone Leigh to be the first Black woman to represent the US at the Venice Biennale

Brooklyn-based sculptor Simone Leigh has been selected by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2022.

Leigh wrote in a post on Instagram: “I acknowledge the paradox of my position during this time when the depth of white supremacy in America is in full view. I also recognize that this is a time when black artists and intellectuals of the diaspora are flourishing and have reached critical mass.”

The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Boston is the commissioning institution for the US pavilion in Venice, which will be on view from April 23 to November 27, 2022. It will feature a new series of sculptures by Leigh, and will be followed by the artist’s first major survey exhibition, taking place at ICA in 2023.

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