Awardees of 2020 Guggenheim Fellowships Get a Lifeline Amid Cancellations and Closures

Detail of artist Sanford Biggers’ Lloottuuss, made with antique quilt fragments. Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

In the midst of the onset of the destabilizing coronavirus, some processes are at least unfolding as usual. This week, the 2020 winners of the annually-awarded Guggenheim Fellowship were announced, and this year’s crop includes the multifaceted artist Sanford Biggers, whose show consisting of repurposed quilts was supposed to debut this month at the Bronx Museum of the Arts in New York City. Of course, due to the conditions created by the pandemic, visiting that show is currently no longer possible. Other artists receiving the Guggenheim Fellowship this year include people like photographer and performance artist Clifford Owens, multimedia artist Steffani Jemison and artist Blitz Bazawule. But what does it mean to be awarded a celebrated fellowship fund when exhibitions are being cancelled left and right and independent art sales have significantly slowed?

Exceeding thankful for this 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship pic.twitter.com/T33huXXYCK

— Clifford Owens (@CliffordOwens) April 9, 2020

For some artists, this recognition is coming at a crucial time when more traditional methods of displaying one’s art and raising one’s profile are not necessarily available to the population at large. Jemison’s work, which seems to have lately revolved around exhibitions and commissions, now cannot be visited in person. Owens, whose performance art often involves interacting with crowds and public spaces, certainly can’t continue some of his traditional practices as usual at present.

Ellen Lesperance, another 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship recipient whose work primarily revolves around knitting, currently has a solo exhibition on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art, but of course that exhibition can currently not be visited because the museum has been temporarily closed, at least until the end of April.

Ultimately, what fellowships and financial grants like these can offer artists in the middle of a global crisis is survival, and a chance to get their names publicized in a time when the news is saturated with calamitous crises. And as a lifeboat, a Guggenheim Fellowship definitely isn’t too shabby.