The Bennett Prize

Bennett Prize goes to painter Ayana Ross

Muskegon, Michigan (May 27, 2021)–  Painter Ayana Ross, of McDonough, Georgia, has won the prestigious 2021 Bennett Prize. Ross’s work explores identity and cultural awareness in the everyday lives of African Americans in the American South.

Ross will be awarded $50,000, giving her the opportunity to create new work in the figurative realist style for a solo exhibition that ultimately will travel the country. The Bennett Prize is the largest prize offered solely to women figurative painters.

“Ross' paintings create story fragments that invite viewers to insert themselves and see their own experiences in her work,” said Patrick Moore, one of four jurors and director of The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. “She highlights racial disparities as well as inter-generational progress in Black lives.”

Her win was announced today at the opening reception for the “Rising Voices 2: The Bennett Prize” exhibition, which runs May 28 – Sept. 5 at the Muskegon Museum of Art, in Muskegon. The museum was chosen to host the exhibition because of its commitment to both women artists and realism.

The exhibition also features the work of the first Bennett Prize winner, Aneka Ingold, of Tampa, Florida, named in 2019. Ingold spent the last two years working on paintings that the exhibition guide describes as representing “a profoundly transformative time, of life upended and redefined, and a woman transfigured by her journey.”

Also on display are paintings by the 10 women figurative realist painters named last fall as finalists for the second Bennett Prize, including Ross. The other nine finalists are:

  • Sophia-Yemisi Adeyemo-Ross, Providence, Rhode Island.
  • Tanmaya Bingham, Portland, Oregon.
  • Chloe Chiasson, Brooklyn, New York.
  • June Glasson, Millbrook, New York.
  • Holly Keogh, Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • Lavely Miller, Baltimore, Maryland.
  • Rebecca Orcutt, North Bend, Washington.
  • Su Su, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • Amy Werntz, Dallas, Texas.

“Beautiful, amusing, haunting, mystifying, celebratory and surprising, these artworks invite closer examination of the artists' perspectives and offer the viewers an opportunity to evaluate their own lives, experiences, and perceptions of the work,” said Art Martin, director of collections and exhibitions at the Muskegon Museum of Art.

Steven Alan Bennett and Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt, of San Antonio, Texas, established The Bennett Prize in 2016, endowing a $3 million fund at The Pittsburgh Foundation to ensure that The Prize will be awarded every two years in perpetuity. 

Schmidt and Bennett are among the country’s top collectors of figurative realist art. Their aim is to boost the careers of women figurative realist painters who have yet to reach full professional recognition and to bring figurative realist painting to a wider audience. 

Response to the call for entries continues to grow, with 674 women artists submitting entries for the 2021 Bennett Prize, up from 647 two years ago.

“We continue to be gratified by the increasing reach of The Prize,” Bennett said. “We understand that we are exposing, and being exposed to, a new, deep and rich vein of talent that otherwise might not have come into view.”

This year's four-member jury included prominent figurative painters Alyssa Monks and Katie O'Hagan, as well as Moore and Bennett. They selected the winner and the nine other finalists. 

To download images of artwork submitted for The Bennett Prize with full image credits, please visit here. Learn more about The Bennett Prize at The Prize website. More information about the “Rising Voices” exhibition is available at the website for the Muskegon Museum of Art

Amanda Rogalski