San Francisco Museum of Modern Art announces 2012 SECA Art Award winners

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) announced that Zarouhie Abdalian, Josh Faught, Jonn Herschend, and David Wilson are the recipients of the 2012 SECA Art Award. Established in 1967, this biennial award honors individual achievements of Bay Area artists through an exhibition, an accompanying publication, and an honorarium.

Zarouhie Abdalian, Set for the Outside (detail), 2010; Josh Faught, It Takes a Lifetime to Get Exactly Where You Are (detail), 2012; Jonn Herschend, Nothing Happens for Long (production still from the video), 2011; David Wilson, Maps and invitations collection (detail), 2006–12

The award is sponsored by the Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art (SECA), an SFMOMA art interest group, and is intended to support artists who are working at a high level but have not yet received substantial museum recognition. The SECA Art Award has been a cornerstone of SFMOMA’s commitment to Bay Area artists, often introducing local talents to the museum’s wide audience, and offering a focused look at contemporary art being made in the region.

The exhibition for this year’s awardees will take place beyond the walls of the museum in the fall of 2013, during the construction period for SFMOMA’s major expansion project, which is slated for completion in 2016. For this unique iteration of the award, the museum will commission new work to be presented at various locations in the Bay Area—a first in the history of the award program—as part of SFMOMA’s extensive off-site programming. SFMOMA assistant curator of painting and sculpture Jenny Gheith and SFMOMA assistant curator of media arts Tanya Zimbardo considered more than 250 artists working in a broad range of media who were nominated by Bay Area art professionals, including curators, critics, professors, gallery owners, SECA members, and former recipients of the SECA Art Award.

Fifteen finalists received studio visits and were asked to submit a proposal for a solo commission that included a potential location. The four winners were selected by Gheith and Zimbardo; the projects will be on view as part of an exhibition at various locations to be announced at a later date. Documentation of the projects will be featured both on the museum’s website and in an accompanying award exhibition catalogue.

“Each of the finalists offered a strong background of thought-provoking work and an inspired proposal to consider,” says Zimbardo. “We feel honored to have had the opportunity to learn more about their practices through the process.”

Gheith adds, “The four winning artists proposed commissions that further and expand upon ideas that they have already been investigating. We’re thrilled to be able to foreground their work through the off-site solo presentations, which will make these projects available to an even broader audience.”

While the award program has traditionally been focused on presenting work at the museum in a gallery setting, there have been key moments in the award history when recipients engaged the public sphere. From Bonnie Sherk and Howard Levine’s Portable Parks I-III (1970 SECA Vernal Equinox Special Award) to Amy Franceschini’s planting parties as part of Victory Gardens 2007+ (2006 SECA Art Award), off-site projects have been an important catalyst for SECA artists.

The finalists for the 2012 SECA Art Award were Zarouhie Abdalian, Elisheva Biernoff, Nate Boyce, Tammy Rae Carland, Anthony Discenza, Liam Everett, Josh Faught, Chris Fraser, Jonn Herschend, Cybele Lyle, Jonathan Runcio, Jesse Schlesinger, Chris Sollars, Lindsey White, and David Wilson.


Zarouhie Abdalian works with the specifics of a site to create subtle interventions into everyday perception. Often bordering on the edge of invisibility, her minimal installations alter understanding through small shifts in sight or sound. Through her research into the history and physical features of a location, she focuses on simple adjustments such as measuring the sonic vibrations of bass shakers in the walls of an exhibition space with a plumb bob, making a window flutter with mylar, or illuminating an abandoned building with lights set on timers. Her refined modifications transform a viewer’s physical or emotional resonance of space. Abdalian explains, “A successful work might act a bit like a speed bump: It may not change your path, but it registers, and for a moment, you move differently.”

The Oakland-based artist (born 1982, New Orleans, Louisiana) earned her BA at Tulane University in 2003 and her MFA from California College of the Arts in 2010. Abdalian’s work has been included in numerous national and international exhibitions including the 9th Shanghai Biennial (2012), the 3rd Moscow International Biennale for Young Art (2012); and the 12th Istanbul Biennial (2011).


Josh Faught’s work mines the rich histories of craft in sculptures that pair traditional textiles and homespun techniques such as loom-weaving, knitting, and crocheting with everyday objects that reference domesticity, political slogans, or kitsch. His assemblages typically start with raw fibers that are hand dyed with organic materials such as ground-up cochineal bugs or covered in spray paint or nail polish. Collaged together in a patchwork-like fashion, fabrics such as hemp or recreations of the AIDS quilt are situated next to shiny sequins or campy buttons. These labor-intensive sculptures draw on histories of gender and sexual politics and precariously balance an urgent sense of anxiety with a nostalgic view of the present. He explains, “These mythologized reconfigurations respond to ongoing interests surrounding possibilities in narrative between object, ornamentation, sexual difference, desire, and the site of domestic dysfunction.”

San Francisco–based Faught (born 1979, St. Louis, Missouri) earned his BA at Oberlin College in 2001 and his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2006. He has had solo exhibitions at Lisa Cooley Gallery, New York, and the Seattle Art Museum among others. In 2012 he won the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, and he received the Betty Bowen Award from the Seattle Art Museum in 2009.


Jonn Herschend is an interdisciplinary artist and filmmaker who investigates emotional truth, confusion, and absurdity in everyday life. His videos, installations, and performances humorously question how we interpret the validity of information by utilizing the formats of corporate messaging such as PowerPoint presentations, infomercials, and educational videos. A recurring theme in his work is the literary device of the unreliable narrator who turns Herschend’s site-specific fictions into personal and confused dramas that implicate the viewer in seeking to find the reality of a situation. The artist explains, “I allow the messiness of reality to eventually collapse the whole piece.” Raised in a midwestern amusement park, Herschend points to the fantasies and expectations placed around entertainment experiences, including art institutions. Several recently commissioned videos have taken the framework of institutional messaging and identity as the point of departure, while offering alternate museum experiences.

Herschend (born 1967, Branson, Missouri) lives and works in San Francisco. He received his MFA from the University of California at Berkeley in 2006 and his BA from Boston University in 1990. Recent short films have been produced for exhibitions at SITE Santa Fe, the Oakland Museum of California Art, and Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art, Copenhagen, Denmark. His work has been included in numerous exhibitions and film screenings, including solo presentations at Steven Wolf Fine Arts, San Francisco; and Invisible Venue, Oakland, and in the group triennial Bay Area Now 5 (2008) at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Since 2007, he has co-edited the object-based publication THE THING Quarterly with artist Will Rogan.


For the past seven years, David Wilson has been known for orchestrating large site-specific gatherings at locations such as Angel Island, Bolinas Beach, and the Marin Headlands. Under the moniker “Ribbons,” he often announces these events through hand-delivered invitations that include folded maps with hand-written directions and elaborate sketches that are used to guide attendees to intimately composed situations and interventions. From his large-scale performance-based events to his one-on-one exchanges with readers/visitors, Wilson often synthesizes the talents of his wide community of musicians, filmmakers, and chefs. These collaborative and participatory actions achieve a certain resonance in the format of ceremonies or healing gestures. This performative and socially engaged aspect of his work stems from the long periods of his solitary and on-going explorations of “the many lost corners and in-between stretches of natural and developed space,” reflected in his meticulously rendered plein air studies in drawing and watercolor on found paper.

Oakland-based Wilson (born 1982, Framingham, Massachusetts) received his BA in visual art from Wesleyan University, Connecticut, in 2005. Wilson was included in the 2010 California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art and has held solo exhibitions at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Eleanor Harwood Gallery, San Francisco, and Hatch Gallery, Oakland.

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