High Names Xaviera Simmons as 2008 Recipient of the David C. Driskell Prize
February 12, 2008, Atlanta – The High Museum of Art today announced Brooklyn-based artist Xaviera Simmons as the 2008 recipient of the David C. Driskell Prize. Named after the renowned African American artist and art scholar, the Driskell Prize recognizes a scholar or artist in the beginning or middle of his or her career whose work makes an original and important contribution to the field of African American art or art history. Simmons’ work combines 21st-century media and traditional art forms, encompassing photography, performance, video and installation. Simmons will be awarded at the Driskell Prize Dinner in Atlanta on April 21, 2008, and will give a public lecture at the High in July 2008, in conjunction with the National Black Arts Festival.
“Innovation and exploration are key components of a Driskell Prize winner’s artistic practice,” said Michael E Shapiro, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. Director of the High. “Xaviera Simmons’ work challenges existing ideas regarding history, community and art by allowing viewers and artists to participate in the environments she creates. We are pleased to honor Simmons’ fresh perspective in the field of African American art by awarding her this recognition.”
Xaviera Simmons thoroughly examines and engages a range of familiar topics, including landscape, history and community. In her newest photography series, titled “A New Era Americana,” she photographs passersby in front of pastoral backdrops on city streets, creating an uncertain and conflicted portrait. In works like these, Simmons uses visual cues to challenge the notion of a constructed identity.
Simmons’ most acclaimed work is an installation piece commissioned in 2006 by Art in General for its storefront in New York City. Originally titled “How to Break Your Own Heart: Visitors Welcome,” the piece transformed the gallery’s project space into a “jazz salon.” This area featured felted floors, seating, a DJ booth, impromptu performances and a 24-hour video presentation. Simmons treated the walls with vintage jazz LP covers and scheduled musical performances, including her own DJ sets. Since its initial installation, “How to Break Your Own Heart” has tripled in size and traveled to the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, Texas, and the Zacheta National Art Gallery in Warsaw, Poland.
Born in 1974, Xaviera Simmons became a Cave Canem Poets Fellow in 2002 and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from Bard College in 2004. She completed a two-year actor-training conservatory program with Maggie Flanagan in 2005, as well as a studio residency with the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in New York City. In 2007 Simmons was awarded a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant and an “In the Public Realm” commission from The Public Art Fund. In 2008 Simmons will show works at March Gallery, New York City, and at the Bronx Museum of Art in “Street Art, Street Life.” She will also serve as an artist-in-residence at Platform Garanti in Istanbul, Turkey. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The selection process for the 2008 recipient of the Driskell Prize began with a call for nominations from a national pool of artists, curators, teachers, collectors and art historians. The final winner was chosen from these nominations by review-committee members Richard Powell, Professor of Art History at Duke University; Alvia Wardlaw, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Art, Houston; Franklin Sirmans, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Menil Collection; and Jeffrey Grove, Wieland Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
David C. Driskell Prize
Established by the High in 2005, the David C. Driskell Prize is the first national award to honor and celebrate contributions to the field of African American art and art history. Past recipients include scholar/curator Franklin Sirmans (2007), artist Willie Cole (2006), and scholar Dr. Kellie Jones (2005). A cash award of $25,000 accompanies the prize. Proceeds from the High Museum’s annual Driskell Prize Dinner go toward both the David C. Driskell African American Art Acquisitions Fund and the David C. Driskell African American Art Endowment. Through the David C. Driskell African American Art Acquisitions Fund, the High has acquired works by artists such as Radcliffe Bailey, Nick Cave, Willie Cole, John T. Scott and Renee Stout.
David C. Driskell
David Driskell is a practicing artist and scholar whose work on the African Diaspora spans more than four decades. The High’s relationship with Driskell began in 2000, when the Museum presented the concurrent exhibitions “To Conserve a Legacy” and “Narratives of African American Art and Identity: The David C. Driskell Collection,” which examined African American art in the broad historical context of modern and contemporary art. Born in 1931 in Eatonton, Georgia, Driskell is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in 1955 and his Master of Fine Arts degree from Catholic University in 1962. He also attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine in 1953 and studied art history in The Hague, Netherlands, in 1964. More information about Driskell is available at
High Museum of Art
The High Museum of Art, founded in 1905 as the Atlanta Art Association, is the leading art museum in the southeastern United States. With more than 11,000 works of art in its permanent collection, the High Museum of Art has an extensive anthology of 19th- and 20th-century American and decorative art; significant holdings of European paintings; a growing collection of African American art; and burgeoning collections of modern and contemporary art, photography and African art. The High is also dedicated to supporting and collecting works by Southern artists and is distinguished as the only major museum in North America to have a curatorial department specifically devoted to the field of folk and self-taught art. The High’s Media Arts department produces acclaimed annual film series and festivals of foreign, independent and classic cinema. In November 2005, the High opened three new buildings by architect Renzo Piano that more than doubled the Museum’s size, creating a vibrant “village for the arts” at the Woodruff Arts Center in midtown Atlanta. In October 2006, the High launched an unprecedented three-year partnership with the Louvre Museum in Paris to bring hundreds of works of art to Atlanta. For more information about the High, please visit
The Woodruff Arts Center
The Woodruff Arts Center is ranked among the top four arts centers in the nation. A not-for-profit center for performing and visual arts, its campus comprises the Alliance Theatre, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the High Museum of Art, Young Audiences and the 14th Street Playhouse.
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