The Bennett Prize

Bennett Prize goes to painter Shiqing Deng

CONTACT: Amanda Rogalski,, 616-540-9231

MUSKEGON, Michigan – Painter Shiqing Deng, of Brooklyn, New York, has won the prestigious 2023 Bennett Prize. Deng’s work is “quiet, contemplative, mysterious and humorous, her paintings hide as much as they reveal.”

Deng 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 realist painters.

“(Deng’s works) are strange and compelling scenes painted with technical bravado. Her distorted figures inhabit playful, unsettling spaces,” said Zoey Frank, one of four jurors and herself a renowned painter. “From the surrealist place settings on the table to the graphic elements on the back wall to the peculiar hand gestures, the details in each painting keep us engaged and questioning.”

Deng’s win was announced today at the opening reception for the “Rising Voices 3: The Bennett Prize'' exhibition, which runs May 18 - Sept. 10 at the Muskegon Museum of Art, in Muskegon, Michigan. Deng holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in her native China and a Master of Fine Arts from the New York Academy of Art in New York City. Her works have been presented in the U.S. and China, with solo gallery exhibitions in Los Angeles and New York. Deng was recognized with an honorable mention in the inaugural 2019 Bennett Prize.

Also announced today, for the first time ever, was “The Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt Prize for Achievement in Figurative Realism,” which includes $10,000, and was awarded to Ruth Dealy of Providence, Rhode Island.

Along with Deng and Dealy, the other eight finalists were:

The exhibition shows 30 works by the current competition’s 10 finalists. Concurrently on view will be the solo exhibition of the preceding cycle’s winner, Ayana Ross of McDonough, Georgia. Ross’s show is entitled “The Lessons I Leave You.” The work, according to Ross, “will depict the divine in everyday moments.” Ross was awarded The Bennett Prize in 2021 and has been creating new work for this exhibition since her earlier win.

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.

"More and more, foundations like ours are looking at our own practices to ask: How can we do more to amplify the voices of the people we serve and truly help transform their lives?” said Lisa Schroeder, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation, where The Prize was founded and is still managed today. “The Bennett Prize is a powerful answer to that question and demonstrates the magic that occurs when collectors and philanthropy place women artists at the center.”

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.

The Prize is succeeding in this effort with prices for the finalists and winners work up by almost 50% since their selection. Similarly, the work of the 20 finalists selected in the first two cycles has been presented in almost 100 shows, both solo and group, published in more than 50 feature articles in arts publications, and more than half have gained gallery representation, which has led to increased sales.

This year's four-member jury included retired Frye Art Museum Director, Joseph Rosa; artists Julie Bell and Zoey Frank; and Steven Bennett.

According to Schmidt, the current jury selected work “ranging from hard realism to impressionism with a soft touch.” Artist and juror Zoey Frank added, “It’s been exciting to see the artists in this show working at the boundaries of what representation can be: paintings that hover on the edge of abstraction, that engage with the modern world…and that tell stories from inside communities that have often been excluded from the history of Western painting.”

Echoing this point, juror Joseph Rosa observed that “the vast range of aesthetics in this work is fantastic.”

Download images of artwork submitted for The Bennett Prize with full image credits. Learn more about The Bennett Prize. More information about the “Rising Voices 3” exhibition is available at the website for the Muskegon Museum of Art.