Last November, The New Foundation Seattle surprised the art world by announcing the creation of The 100K Prize—a biennial, unrestricted award of $100,000 presented to an influential, U.S.-based female artist in honor of her exemplary artistic achievements and enduring commitment to her art. In addition to the cash prize, the foundation funds presentations of the recipient’s work and the development of related public programs in Seattle.
It’s a bold move by the foundation, established in 2012 by art collector and philanthropist Shari D. Behnke. Along with curator and educator Yoko Ott, the foundation has helped fund a wide range of artists and arts programming in Seattle. Most recently, it has provided support for Seattle artist Wynne Greenwood’s exhibition Kelly at the New Museum in New York City, and gave a multiyear grant to the University of Washington School of Art + Art History + Design to broaden its contemporary art curriculum.
Behnke has a 25-year history of supporting local visual artists and arts organizations—she and her husband, John, created the Neddy (at Cornish) and the Brink (at Henry Art Gallery) awards for artists—but this newly announced prize, unprecedented in scale and strategy, marks a new phase for Behnke and The New Foundation.
“I have wanted to create a nationally based prize for a long time, and I have wanted to create a prize for women artists for equally as long,” Behnke says. “The 100K Prize, as The New Foundation Seattle has developed it, is more than just giving the artist money. It is a way for the people who are living and working in Seattle to immerse themselves in a body of work created by one artist.”
That one artist for The 100K’s inaugural year is New York City–based multimedia pioneer and feminist Martha Rosler. She’s best known for House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (1967–1972), her provocative photomontage work in which the idealized domestic lives of American wives and homemakers, seen in the glossy magazines of the 1960s and ’70s, are juxtaposed against the grim realities of the Vietnam War. Rosler’s work reveals the bitter irony of the situation with a compelling mix of humor and social critique.
Rosler’s other early works include the photomontage series Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain (1966–1972), which addressed gender and the social role of women, and her famous feminist video Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975). Rosler has continued to produce work in a wide range of media—including photography, video, writing, performance, sculpture and installation—that has explored issues of labor, consumer society, urban development and media culture.
In conjunction with The New Foundation, Rosler has developed a yearlong series of exhibitions, screenings, workshops and community discussions here in Seattle dealing with issues of housing, titled Housing Is a Human Right. With more than a dozen partners, including the Seattle Art Museum, the University of Washington, the Seattle Public Library and the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture, the citywide project has been created to introduce Seattle to Rosler’s groundbreaking methods of using art as a means of enacting social change.
The Seattle project’s title is taken from animation Rosler created in 1989, at the invitation of the Public Art Fund, for the giant digital screen in Times Square to highlight the growing problem of homelessness in New York City. The piece coincided with another Rosler project: If You Lived Here…, her landmark exhibition on homelessness at the Dia Foundation in New York City. This has returned as the subject of a three-part exhibit and enhanced archival record of the original, on display at The New Foundation’s Pioneer Square headquarters through July 30. Two additional shows of Rosler’s work from the ’80s and ’90s, Video as device (9/8–10/29) and The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems (11/10–1/15/2017), will follow.
Arriving in Seattle at a moment when explosive economic growth is creating structural and economic changes that are leaving increasing numbers of people behind, Rosler’s past work could not be more prescient, nor could the goals of this current project seem more imperative.
Martha Rosler (right) greeted at The New Foundation Seattle in January. Photo courtesy of The New Foundation Seattle.
As part of the foundation’s programming, the Seattle Art Museum is presenting Martha Rosler: Below the Surface through July 4. It is an exhibition of works from her House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home series and from her follow-up piece, House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, New Series (2004–08), created in response to the Iraq War and the phenomenon of 24-hour cable news.
Other parts of Housing Is a Human Right directly involve members of the public—some of whom are likely far removed from the art world. In 1989, Rosler included work by New York City artists, filmmakers and videographers, homeless people, activists, architects, squatters, poets, writers, community groups and schoolchildren in If You Lived Here…. Today in Seattle, she is doing the same.
Rosler and The New Foundation are also working on joint programming with the Henry Art Gallery, the Northwest Film Forum, and AIA Seattle Design in Public’s Seattle Design Festival, as well as directly with organizations that serve the homeless. These include Creative Justice, an arts-based alternative to incarceration for youths of King County; Path with Art, an arts and social justice nonprofit that provides access to the arts for adults in recovery from homelessness, addiction and trauma; and Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, an independent group dedicated to safety, survival, housing and justice for people who are homeless.
The goal is to engage the gentrifiers and the displaced alike, and to inspire local artists who might follow Rosler’s example of taking on the challenges of raising public consciousness, fostering a citywide dialogue across the social spectrum and—ultimately—seeking solutions.