The AAH Curatorial Prize for Exhibitions 2023 was conferred during a recent special presentation in London to curator Ekow Eshun for his exhibition IN THE BLACK FANTASTIC (29 June –⁠ 18 September 2022) at the Hayward Gallery.

The winner was selected by an eminent panel, consisting of:

  • Alex Farquharson, Director, Tate Britain
  • Axel Ruger, Secretary and Chief Executive, Royal Academy of Arts
  • Saad-Edine Said, CEO and Artistic Director, New Art Exchange
  • Deborah Swallow, Märit Rausing Director, The Courtauld Institute of Art

The judging panel praised In the Black Fantastic:

This was a very well realised and timely large-scale survey of the allegorical uses of fantasy by artists either side of the Atlantic (especially the U.S. and Britain) to evoke imaginative, liberatory escape routes out of the historic and present-day realities of anti-Black racism. The focus on a relatively small number of artists, presented at scale in their own spaces, made for an appropriately visually and spatially immersive experience through these speculative, alternative worlds. For audiences new to the subject, it was a compelling introduction to a rich field of creative and theoretical practice that has gathered particular momentum in contemporary art over the past decade or two.

Many congratulations to Ekow for a fantastic and well-deserved win!

Installation view of Cauleen Smith, In the Black Fantastic at Hayward Gallery, 2022. Copyright the artist. Photo: Zeinab Batchelor, Courtesy of the Hayward Gallery

The judging panel also highly commended Laura Bruni, former assistant curator, Tate Liverpool with Ammarah Saleem, former exhibitions trainee; and Tom Emery content editor for JMW TURNER WITH LAMIN FOFANA: DARK WATERS at Tate Liverpool (27 September 2022 – 24 September 2023), commenting on JMW Turner and Lamin Fofana:

This exhibition brought together a precise selection of works by Turner from Tate’s Turner Bequest to offer a survey of the many ways Turner quite uniquely engaged with politics and technology, industry and empire, at sea, during the so-called ‘age of revolution’. Lamin Fofana’s sonic intervention offered an almost synaesthetic echo in sound of the diffuse, sublime atmospherics of Turner’s late paintings. The exhibition made for an especially successful dialogue between a major canonical art historical figure (whose innovations remain resonant) and a contemporary practitioner – one that resonated powerfully with the spectre of Liverpool’s own maritime history.

Dark Waters Installation © Tate, Sam Day

This is the second year of the AAH Curatorial Prize and is part of a broader initiative led by the Association for Art History. Gregory Perry, CEO of the AAH commented: “We created the curatorial prizes to highlight the excellent work that curators in art museums and galleries do to bring our cultural heritage to light for broad audiences.  We all benefit from the research they undertake and the presentation of works of art and ideas that are part of curated exhibitions.  With the awards we want to both recognise curatorial excellence and emphasis that the great experiences we have in exhibitions stars with curators engaging in art historical research. The initiative began in 2020 to support curatorial practice in museums, galleries and related institutions by creating opportunities for professional development, information and knowledge exchange and networking. The Prize is sponsored by Cromwell Place, and is part of the Association’s effort to promote and advocate the value of curatorial work. Elizabeth Dellert, Membership & Business Development Director at Cromwell Place, says of the initiative: “Like the AAH, Cromwell Place are deeply committed to the support and championing of professionals in the arts; and as such, are thrilled to sponsor this year’s AAH Curatorial Prize, with a view to bringing more attention to the awards programme in years to come.”

Projects were assessed in terms of four factors: how the exhibition demonstrates excellence in art historical research, in terms of rigour, originality or impact on the field; whether the exhibition demonstrates contemporary relevance of art and its histories; whether it communicates effectively with its intended audiences and whether it will help to broaden and make more inclusive the subject and practice of art history.

The announcement was made at a recent, intimate gathering of AAH members and invited guests at the Association for Art History summer event.

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The AAH Curatorial Prize is sponsored by Cromwell Place.

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