Dia Art Foundation launches $75,000 art award named for late artist Sam Gilliam

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The Dia Art Foundation will give out a major new international art prize, the Sam Gilliam Award, beginning in spring 2024, with the winning artist receiving $75,000. The annual prize, to be given out for ten years, is made possible by a donation from the estate of Sam Gilliam, the Washington Color School artist known for his large-scale paintings on shaped, draped and otherwise unconventionally displayed canvases. In 2021, the year before he died, Dia acquired one of Gilliam’s most ambitious and important works, Double Merge (1968).

“Exhibiting at Dia Beacon was a proud moment for Sam, and he would be delighted that his legacy will now continue there in such a powerful way,” Annie Gawlak, the artist’s widow, said in a statement. “Having received awards himself, at several pivotal moments in his career—which allowed Sam to establish a studio, leave his teaching position and create a home for his family—the wide-reaching impact of these forms of support and recognition were truly appreciated by Sam and by those most important to him.”

Criteria for the Sam Gilliam Award are fairly broad: the prize will be given annually to an individual artist who can be based anywhere in the world, who has “made a significant contribution” within any artistic genre or medium and for whom winning the prize would have a “transformative” impact, per Dia’s announcement. An international panel of nominators will compile a long-list of candidates, which a panel of five jurors will then pare down to one winner.

“Gilliam was truly one of the most important figures in American abstract art, as well as notoriously generous and supportive of his fellow artists,” Jessica Morgan, Dia’s director, said in a statement.

The $75,000 in prize money instantly makes the Sam Gilliam Award one of the most financially significant art prizes in the US, where only a handful of awards available to artists—like the $100,000 Nasher Prize or the $250,000 Heinz Awards—involve larger sums.

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