30-year-old painter Meleko Mokgosi born and raised in Botswana was recently awarded one of the biggest prizes for visual artists anywhere, the $100,000 Mohn Award for his work displayed at the Hammer Museum biennial, “Made in L.A.”
With such a large prize awarded to Mokgosi through a combination of popular vote and jury selection, the now based in L.A. painter will split over two years $100,000 and receive a book of his work.
Ann Philbin the Museum’s director just loves Mokgosi’s work that has been displayed around three walls filled with 10-canvases in a series. The director describes his work as “beautiful and brutal.” She goes on to explain “His work is a form of historical painting that comes from various stories of postcolonial Africa. We might not know the particular references to slaughtering cows in the 19th century, but we do feel the tension and understand that they are paintings about resistance.”
Critic Yael Lipschutz recently described Mokgosi’s work in a Art in America article online as “unusual social realism, involving both crisply rendered figures from African society and politics, and passages of raw empty canvas.” She wrote “Rather than emulating journalistic set pieces with fixed story frames, Mokgosi’s paintings come to us as detective stories or dreamscapes from a faraway continent.”
Even though the “Made in L.A.” biennial is in its first year which will run through September 2nd, supporters have already pledge to fund four more exhibitions. The award’s funders include well known contemporary art collectors Jarl and Pamela Mohn.
In the show for the award, Cecila Alemani of the High Line Art Program, Rita Gonzalez of the L.A. Country Museum of Art, Anthony Huberman and Doryun Chong of the Museum of Modern Art were included in the jury of curartors who selected five artist out of the 60. Then all five were voted on by museum visitors. The other artist were Erika Vogt, Simone Forti, the collective Slanguage, Karla Diaz and Mario Ybarra Jr. and Liz Glynn. All artists are based in L.A. Currently, Mokgosi is doing a residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem in New York.
With voting being closed on August 12, many artists were concerned that out of 50,000 visitors to the show, only 4,300 registered to vote and out of the registered voters only 2,051 people actually voted.
Despite voting concerns for the show, the Museum is looking forward to improving the voting process for its 2014 biennial and hopeful for a positive outcome. Here’s what Philbin had to say “We’re going to continue the award, there’s no question about that. The question is how.” The Museum director states “It’s really interesting. In a way we could decide to have the public vote completely or not have the public vote at all.” Philbin said. “As a result, we will have a lot of conversations going forward.”