Photographer Deana Lawson Receives 2020 $100,000 Hugo Boss Prize

American photographer Deana Lawson has received Guggenheim’s Hugo Boss Prize for 2020. She is the first photographer to receive the prestigious award.

Oct 23, 2020By Charlotte Davis, BA Art History

Rihanna by Deana Lawson, 2018, via Garage Magazine; Detail from Nation by Deana Lawson, 2017, via MoMA, New York; Portrait of Deana Lawson, via Lewis Center of the Arts, Princeton


New York-based photographer Deana Lawson has received the 2020 Hugo Boss Prize. She is the first photographer to receive the award. Along with the $100,000 prize, Deana Lawson will have an exhibition at New York’s Guggenheim museum in the Spring of 2021 as part of the award. 


Richard Armstrong, the Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, stated, “On behalf of our jury I am delighted to announce Deana Lawson as the recipient of the 2020 Hugo Boss Prize…Lawson is the first artist working in photography to be recognized with the award in history, and her contribution to the medium and the larger cultural landscape is indelible.


The jury also stated that “Lawson brilliantly negotiates the legacies of vernacular, documentary, and conceptual photography to create indelible tableaux of Black colloquial life…her singular approach, at once socially humane and technically incisive, is transformative of both the medium and the very concept of representation.”


The Hugo Boss Prize 

Blinky & Tony Forever by Deana Lawson, 2009, via Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago


Since being established in 1996, the Hugo Boss Prize has become one of the most prestigious art awards in the world. Administered by the Guggenheim Foundation, the $100,000 prize  is given to one artist biennially to honor “outstanding achievement in contemporary art.” It draws from a list of six notable artists from around the world and has no restrictions based on gender, age, nationality or medium.


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The 2020 finalist roster for the Hugo Boss Prize featured Nairy Baghramian (Isfahan, Iran), Kevin Beasly (Lynchburg, VA), Elias Sime (Addis, Ababa, Ethiopia), Cecilia Vicuña (Santiago, Chile) and Adrián Villar Rojas (Rosario, Argentina) alongside Deana Lawson. Due to the current difficult economic circumstances for many creatives, the five artists who made the 2020 shortlist will receive an honorary $10,000. 


Previous winners of the Hugo Boss Prize include Matthew Barney (1996), Douglas Gordon (1998), Tacita Dean (2006), Hans-Peter Feldmann (2010), Danh Vo (2012), and Simone Leigh (2018), who was recently selected to represent the U.S. at the 2022 Venice Biennale


Deana Lawson: Personal And Social Identities In Bodies

Signs by Deana Lawson, 2016, via the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York


Deana Lawson is a photographer based in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Her highly conceptual work centers the Black diaspora and Black identity through staged images that appear naturalistic. These images focus on the body as a vessel for histories both social and personal through themes including intimacy, romance, familial legacy, community and spirituality. Her work is also inspired by the domestic and commonplace, and she meets her subjects through many different aspects of life, including on city streets, public transport and grocery stores. 


Her work has proved extremely influential on other contemporary artists. Author Zadie Smith has praised Deana Lawson’s work for its masterful depiction of the duality of Black culture, saying: “Black people are not conceived as victims, social problems or exotics but, rather, as what Lawson calls ‘creative, godlike beings’ who do not ‘know how miraculous we are,’” while also noting that this “is not to say that the surface scars pass unrecorded in Lawson’s photographs. Circumstances are in no way hidden or removed from the shot[s].” 


Deana Lawson’s work has been exhibited and held in a variety of institutions, including the MoMA PS1 in New York, the Whitney Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Underground Museum in Los Angeles, the Museum voor Fotografie in Amsterdam and the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. She will also hold her first museum survey at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston in 2021. 


Deana Lawson made news recently after joining the David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles, after being represented by New York’s Sikkema Jenkins & Co.


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By Charlotte DavisBA Art HistoryCharlotte is a contributing writer from Portland, Oregon now based in London, England. I’m an art historian with extensive knowledge in art history, classics, ancient art and archaeology.