Mary Reid Kelley, “Sadie the Saddest Sadist” (2009), SD video with sound (image via the MacArthur Foundation)

Several artists are among the just-announced winners of this year’s John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowships, often called “genius grants.” Sculptors Vincent Fecteau and Joyce J. Scott, video artist Mary Reid Kelley, writer and artist Lauren Redniss are among 23 recipients of the fellowship. Art historian and curator Kellie Jones also made the list. The MacArthur Fellows Program awards $625,000 annually to recipients over the course of five years. This year’s fellows also include writer Maggie Nelson, poet Claudia Rankine, playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, and graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang.

Mary Reid Kelley, 2016 MacArthur Fellow, Reid Kelley Residence & Studio, Olivebridge, NY, August 31, 2016

Mary Reid Kelley, 2016 MacArthur Fellow, Reid Kelley Residence & Studio, Olivebridge, NY, August 31, 2016 (image via the MacArthur Foundation)

Deemed “seriously funny” by Lilly Lampe on Hyperallergic last year, Mary Reid Kelley makes wry, playful videos that explore the social standing of women throughout history. Reid Kelley creates everything in the videos — from the scripts, written in poetic verse, to the sets, props, and costumes — and performs the leading roles. All of the videos are produced in the private studio she shares with her partner, Patrick Kelley.

In her video “Sadie the Saddest Sadist” (2009), Reid Kelley dons clownish makeup and plays the character of Sadie, a female British munitions worker living in 1915 who contracts venereal disease from a sailor. She speaks in punning rhymes — for instance, calling stains on sheets “Marx on my Lenin!” — which add a slightly unhinged humor to her anachronistic political work. 

Lauren Redniss, 2016 MacArthur Fellow, New York, New York, September 16, 2016

Lauren Redniss, 2016 MacArthur Fellow, New York, New York, September 16, 2016 (image via the MacArthur Foundation)

Lauren Redniss, an assistant professor of illustration at Parsons, The New School for Design, makes elaborate art books and graphic novels that combine drawings, photomontage, oral history, original typeface design, and writing. Her biography of Marie and Pierre Curie, Radioactive (2010), uses diary entries, letters, and narrative accounts to chronicle the Curies’ love affairs and their scientific discoveries. Its glow-in-the-dark cover and blue-tinged cyanotype prints suggest Marie Curie’s musings on radium’s “spontaneous luminosity.”

Baltimore-based sculptor and jewelry maker Joyce J. Scott uses beadwork to explore the violence engendered by racism and sexism. Some of her most recent three-dimensional sculptures, made from hand-blown Murano glass, are enhanced “with beads, wire, and thread to help shape figures and busts,” wrote Cara Ober in a recent Hyperallergic review of Scott’s “dazzlingly beautiful” show at Goya Contemporary. “The glass renders solid forms radiant and transparent, with intense, wet color so compelling you want to lick it, or at least fondle it. Scott’s signature beadwork, attached to the blown glass, is formed into small figures, flower chains, snakes, and ribbons of semen, expertly completed without any underlying armature.”

San Francisco-based sculptor Vincent Fecteau uses simple materials, such as papier-mâché and cardboard, to craft abstract meditations on the act of perception. Painted in rich colors, the undulating sculptures at once suggest architecture and decoration, and reference Cubism and Futurism with their curious geometries. Some of his wall-mounted sculptures can be hung in different ways to offer new vantage points; others are placed in cavities cut into the wall so that they emerge like strange growths.

Kellie Jones, 2016 MacArthur Fellow, New York, New York, September 9, 2016

Kellie Jones, 2016 MacArthur Fellow, New York, New York, September 9, 2016 (image via the MacArthur Foundation)

Art historian and curator Kellie Jones, an associate professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University, focuses on contemporary art of the African Diaspora. Intent on securing the place of black artists in the modern art canon, her curatorial efforts have helped introduce wider audiences to the work of now-famous black artists, like Martin Puryear, David Hammons, and Lorna Simpson. Jones is the curator behind seminal exhibitions of African American art, like Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960–1980 (2012) and Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties (2014). In a 2012 review, Hyperallergic Senior Editor Jillian Steinhauer called Now Dig This! at MoMA PS1 “so good — so well-curated, so full of fantastic art, so revelatory.”

“Amid the grand narrative of postwar LA art painted by Pacific Standard Time, Jones has zoomed in on one specific subset: the black artistic communities (and she takes this to mean the communities as a whole, including participants and friends of other cultural groups) in the city during a two-decade period,” Steinhauer wrote. “But once you get inside the smaller piece she’s broken off, you realize that she’s actually widened the art-historical narrative. She’s blown shit wide open.”

First awarded in 1981, MacArthur Fellowships are selected by an anonymous group that nominates potential awardees, who are then presented to an anonymous committee that chooses the winners. Recipients must be citizens or residents of the United States. The awards are presented to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”

See the complete list of 2016 MacArthur Fellowship recipients here

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.