The American Academy of Arts and Letters has announced the recipients of its highest honors for excellence in the arts, to be presented at its annual ceremony in May. Toni Morrison will be awarded the Gold Medal for Fiction. The Gold Medal is awarded to those who have achieved eminence in an entire body of work.
Thelma Golden will be recognized with the Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts for her significant contribution as Director and Chief Curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem. Sculptor Lee Bontecou will also be honored this year.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 as an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Early members included Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. The Academy’s 250 members are elected for life and pay no dues.
In addition to electing new members as vacancies occur, the Academy seeks to foster and sustain an interest in Literature, Music, and the Fine Arts by administering over 70 awards and prizes, exhibiting art and manuscripts, funding performances of new works of musical theater, and purchasing artwork for donation to museums across the country. This year’s total expenditures on awards and grants will be $1.2 million.
Author of eleven novels, Toni Morrison has, over the years, shaken us out of the ruts of our ordinary perspective. She has allowed us to walk through various shades of the national experience, always incisively, provocatively, generously. She is the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Nobel Prize in Literature, among numerous other honors. Ms. Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus, at Princeton University, where her papers are housed. Toni Morrison was elected to the Academy in 1981.
Thelma Golden is Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, which has, under her tenure, gained increased renown as a global leader in the exhibition of contemporary works by artists of African descent, a center for innovative education, and a cultural anchor in the Harlem community. 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Studio Museum which is currently constructing a new building by Sir David Adjaye. She has been awarded a Barnard Medal of Distinction, was appointed by President Barack Obama to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Barack Obama Foundation and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Lee Bontecou earned wide acclaim in the 1960s and ’70s for her ominous pitch-black voids, enshrouded within patchwork skins painstakingly constructed from steel rods and stretched canvas, and shaded with soot from her welding torch. Withdrawing from the spotlight after her early success, in the following decades she has quietly but resolutely produced a unique body of sculpture that is remarkable for its originality, its range, and its independence. Her work can be seen in a number of celebrated institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Lee Bontecou was elected to the Academy in 2004.
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