Three US museums use prize funds to acquire works from Expo Chicago

Carlie Porterfield, The Art Newspaper, April 14, 2023

Three US museums use prize funds to acquire works from Expo Chicago


Curators and directors from three US museums acquired new artwork by underrepresented artists for their collections free of charge at Expo Chicago this week, thanks to a programme in which a Chicago financial services company foots the bill for the institutions to acquire a piece of their choice from an emerging art gallery at the fair.


The Northern Trust Purchase Prize, sponsored by Chicago-based wealth management firm Northern Trust, was awarded to the Seattle Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in St Petersburg, Florida, and the St Louis Art Museum. Each  recipient institution selected a work from the fair’s Exposure section, reserved for galleries operating for ten years or fewer. Northern Trust will put up the funds for the institutions to purchase the works for their permanent collections.


The Seattle Art Museum selected Phahamong III (2023) by South African artist Mohau Modisakeng from Martin Art Projects, a gallery based in Cape Town. The St Louis Art Museum acquired the large-scale painting Irawo II (2023) by Nigerian artist Wole Lagunju from New York-based gallery Montague Contemporary. Representatives from both museums said Friday (14 April) their respective collections would benefit from having more representation of contemporary African art.


The Museum of Fine Arts, St Petersburg selected a mixed media sculpture Ahau Can (2023) by Claudia Peña Salinas, a Mexican artist who attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, through Embajada, a gallery based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “It’s very meaningful to also have this acquisition happen in Chicago, the city where my family still lives and where I went to school,” Peña Salinas said in a statement.


This year’s Exposure section featured 41 stands curated by Aimé Iglesias Lukin, the director and chief curator of visual arts at the Americas Society in New York. 


During the early years of Expo Chicago, the prize was limited to Chicago-based institutions, like the Museum of Contemporary Art, Block Museum of Art, Smart Museum of Art and DePaul Art Museum. Last year marked the first time the prize was expanded to accept nationwide candidates—the 2022 winners included the Portland Art Museum in Oregon, Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.