Working across a wide range of media—from painting and sculpture to digital collage—this pool of artists presented impressive talent, dedication, and a keen attention to craft. We live in a moment of anxiety: as the world presents us with many unknowns, personal meaning can feel suffocated by mounting collective crises. The role of art in such a situation can feel tenuous, on the one hand, and increasingly vital, on the other. Across this group of artists, I was struck by the proliferation of careful, slow observation, and a belief in the act of critical looking as a means of navigating the world in all its complexity. The group of artists selected as finalists impressed with their focused eye. Their work turns our attention to the intimate moments in which we can see the ways in which we try to make sense of the world: the narratives and connections—and absurdities—that give it all meaning. Photographs by Eli Durst, chosen for the first prize, distill the muted chaos that resides in America, and the ways that communities attempt to reckon with that loss of center by forging narratives of faith and collectivity. Durst captures the danger, precarity, and hope at the heart of such attempts. In June Park and Brittany Miller, each awarded the second prize, both bring fresh perspectives to painting. Through cropping, fragmentation, and a manipulation of negative space, Park’s works reflect the ways in which identity is inflected by our memories—however incomplete—of place. Miller’s paintings also balance presence and absence: built up from diaphanous brushstrokes, her portraits of people at repose seem on the verge of dissolution. Across the board, all of the finalists demonstrated a sensitivity to material and an ability to hone in on the operation of perception itself.
Jody Graf is a curator and writer based in New York. She is Assistant Curator at MoMA PS1, where she has worked on exhibitions including Greater New York 2021; Niki de Saint Phalle: Structures for Life (2021); Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration (2020); Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991-2011 (2019); Simone Fattal: Works and Days (2019); and Sue Coe: Graphic Resistance (2018), among others. She curated the 2021 Parsons MFA Thesis show, and has worked as an independent curator on numerous projects. Her writing has been featured in publications including Texte Zur Kunst, Frieze, Mousse, CURA, and The Exhibitionist. She received her BA from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU, and her MA from the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College.