Rodney McMillian wins inaugural $100,000 Suzanne Deal Booth art prize

Rodney McMillian has been named the recipient of the first Suzanne Deal Booth Prize, the $100,000 biennial award established at the Contemporary Austin in July.

In addition to the unrestricted $100,000 prize, McMillian, who is based in Los Angeles, will receive a solo exhibition at the Contemporary’s downtown Austin venue along with the option to extend the exhibit to the museum’s 14-acre sculpture park at Laguna Gloria. A catalog and a slate of public programs will accompany the exhibit, which will be presented in 2018.

“This is an amazing opportunity,” McMillian said. “It’s thrilling to be offered the chance to embark on a new idea or approach. It’s rare.”

In work that includes sculptural installations, video and painting, McMillian, 47, blends social, personal and political issues to address ideas of race, gender and class.

Earlier this year McMillian had three simultaneous solo museum exhibits at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Museum of Modern Art’s P.S. 1 and the Philadelphia’s Institute of Contemporary Art.

McMillian frequently repurposes old domestic objects and furniture — what he calls “post-consumer items” — altering them to create installations that poignantly allude to economic and race relations. He also mines thrift shops for used bedsheets that he transforms into large, vivid, thickly encrusted paintings. “The disparities of economic class is often what I’ve been interested in,” McMillian said. “Issues around poverty cut across all demographics.”

McMillian was selected by a panel of curators and art historians that also included Contemporary senior curator Heather Pesanti as well as Deal Booth.

“Rodney creates work that’s very much in collaboration with whatever community he’s making it in,” Pesanti said. “He engages the place and time of where he is and that sense of collaboration is a perfect fit for both Austin and the Contemporary.”

One of the largest visual arts awards on the international scene, the prize is funded by Deal Booth, an arts patron, collector, art historian and board member of the Contemporary.

The Booth Prize can go to an artist of any age and nationality, working in any medium and at any stage of a career. The selection committee will change with each iteration of the award.

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