Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Institute may best be known for its efforts to empower filmmakers, but in fact, the non-profit seeks to recognize and reward storytellers across all art forms. One award from the organization’s roster, the Robert De Niro Sr Prize, awards mid-career American artists who have contributed greatly to the world of painting. This year’s recipient, California-based Laura Owens, is the fifth winner of this accolade—named after De Niro’s own father, a prolific abstract expressionist painter. Owens has been producing work for two decades now and her charmed large scale pieces unfurl with greater meaning when probed and considered.
As De Niro explains to CH, in memory of his father, “I assemble a committee of experts every year, that I trust, to decide who should be given the honor.” Among this year’s selection team, Leah Dickerman, the Marlene Hess Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, describes Owens work succinctly: “As an important bold female voice from LA, [Owens is] someone who took on the tradition of decoration without irony and created intricate paintings with delicate detail. It’s sometimes playful and sometimes dark.” This was just a first stage, however. Dickerman continues, “Three years ago, she grabbed our attention all over again, where she boldly entered the digital age, creating paintings that were radical, with the kind of beauty that was not simple at all, but challenging work.” It is this diversity of her work that’s most alluring and impressive. From landscape work to the purely abstract and animal representations to historic references, each piece expresses an upfront likability—with bubbling depths evident.
While Owens might not be a household name, her list of accolades is impressive. In 2002, Owens showed within the exhibition “Drawing Now: Eight Propositions,” a collection of illustrations from emerging creators at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. One year later, while only nine years out of school, Owens became the youngest artist to be honored with a Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles retrospective. Since, her work has been shown across the globe and draws representation from several celebrated galleries including NYC-based Gavin Brown’s enterprise. Her development over the years has crossed and blended genres, and her materials have broadened. Regarding the award, Owens’ words were of thanks, to the Tribeca Film Institute, yes, but also to the community of artists she has worked with and appreciated from the mid ’90s till today.
Owens work will be on display next at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco, opening in April 2016.
All images courtesy the artist / Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York / Sadie Coles HQ, London / Capitain Petzel, Berlin / Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne