Three US museums use prize funds to acquire works from Expo Chicago

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Curators and directors from three US museums acquired new artwork by underrepresented artists for their collections free of charge at Expo Chicago this week, thanks to a programme in which a Chicago financial services company foots the bill for the institutions to acquire a piece of their choice from an emerging art gallery at the fair.

The Northern Trust Purchase Prize, sponsored by Chicago-based wealth management firm Northern Trust, was awarded to the Seattle Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in St Petersburg, Florida, and the St Louis Art Museum. Each recipient institution selected a work from the fair’s Exposure section, reserved for galleries operating for ten years or fewer. Northern Trust will put up the funds for the institutions to purchase the works for their permanent collections.

Ahau Can (2023) by Claudia Peña Salinas, installation view Bureau, New York 2023 Image courtesy the artist, Dario Lasagni and Embajada, San Juan

The Seattle Art Museum selected Phahamong III (2023) by South African artist Mohau Modisakeng from Martin Art Projects, a gallery based in Cape Town. The St Louis Art Museum acquired the large-scale painting Irawo II (2023) by Nigerian artist Wole Lagunju from New York-based gallery Montague Contemporary. Representatives from both museums said Friday (14 April) their respective collections would benefit from having more representation of contemporary African art.

The Museum of Fine Arts, St Petersburg selected a mixed media sculpture Ahau Can (2023) by Claudia Peña Salinas, a Puerto Rican artist who attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, through Embajada, a gallery based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “It’s very meaningful to also have this acquisition happen in Chicago, the city where my family still lives and where I went to school,” Peña Salinas said in a statement.

Phahamong III (2023) by South African artist Mohau Modisakeng Courtesy Martin Art Projects

This year’s Exposure section featured 41 stands curated by Aimé Iglesias Lukin, the director and chief curator of visual arts at the Americas Society in New York.

During the early years of Expo Chicago, the prize was limited to Chicago-based institutions, like the Museum of Contemporary Art, Block Museum of Art, Smart Museum of Art and DePaul Art Museum. Last year marked the first time the prize was expanded to accept nationwide candidates—the 2022 winners included the Portland Art Museum in Oregon, Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.

Selva Aparicio, Auto-Da-Fe (Act of Faith), 2021/23 Courtesy the artist

The fair’s organisers also announced the inaugural Barbara Nessim Acquisition Prize on Friday, whereby a work from the fair is acquired for the permanent collection of the DePaul Art Museum. Auto-da-Fé (Act of Faith) (2021-23), a sculpture by the Spanish artist Selva Aparicio (who earned her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago), was donated to DePaul Art Museum.

“Selva defies any categorisation,” DePaul Art Museum associate curator Ionit Behar said in a statement, “creating artwork from the deepest place of herself, with profound sensibility for materials and what they project into the world.”

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