Crystal Bridges awards $200,000 Don Tyson Prize to Pittsburgh artist Vanessa German

by Tina Alvey Dale ( 347 views 

Vanessa German

Vanessa German is the 2018 recipient of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s Don Tyson Prize, a $200,000 biennial award for outstanding achievement in American art.

Tyson Foods chairman, John Tyson, along with Crystal Bridges founder and board chair, Alice Walton and Crystal Bridges curator, contemporary art, Lauren Haynes presented the prize to German at the Art House in Homewood, Pa. Monday (Dec. 17).

Nominations for the award opened earlier this year for organizations and individuals working in any medium. A national jury of museum peers and art historians reviewed the applications and selected German. Her work was noted as “pushing boundaries and taking risks in the field of American art, as well as positively impacting her community through art experiences,” a media release said.

“The Don Tyson Prize recognizes Vanessa for changing the way we experience art and exploring transformation through art and advocacy,” said John Tyson. “The impact she’s had and the work she’ll continue to do honors the memory of my father Don, for whom the prize is named. Like Vanessa, he believed in the power of art and in the American spirit.”

German is a sculptor, painter, writer, activist, performer and poet who lives in Pittsburgh.

Crystal Bridges has acquired several of German’s works. She will speak as part of the museums Distinguished Speaker Series April 24 at Crystal Bridges.

“I am honored to have been selected for the Don Tyson Prize,” German said. “Art has been transformational in my life, particularly in confronting and contending with the dimensional violence of racism.  I create art works, experiences and spaces of social healing, connection, and expression. This award not only allows me to deepen my studio practice and anchor the Art House, but it also provides an opportunity to pay it forward and continue the work of my mother, Sandra German, who affirmed the lives, activism and creative power of those around her.”

German plans to use part of the award on a project called the “Museum of Resilience.” German describes the project as “located within the community of the Art House, the museum will be a public place that draws on the concept of the Art House to celebrate the transformative power of creativity in the lives of black women, trans women, single mothers, and their children, while simultaneously resisting the violence of gentrification.”

German’s community, Homewood in Pittsburg, is the driving force behind her work, the release said. It has been described by MSNBS as “The Most Dangerous Neighborhood in America.”

“As a citizen artist, she is a vigorous advocate for children, creating safe spaces for artmaking amid violence. In recent years, she launched the Art House where she hosts neighborhood children, women and families to create beauty through art and build self-esteem,” the release stated.

German also creates elaborate sculptures of African American “power figures” crafted from found objects that confront violence and systematic racism.

The Don Tyson Prize was established in honor of the late Don Tyson, former chairman and CEO of Tyson Foods. In 2012, the Tyson family and Tyson Foods, Inc., gave a $5 million endowment to Crystal Bridges to establish the Tyson Scholars of American Art program and the Don Tyson Prize. Tyson Scholars is a research and residency program that helps promote the study and understanding of American art. In recent years, the prize was endowed with an additional $5 million commitment from the Tyson family and Tyson Foods, Inc. German is the second recipient of the award.