Kevin Zander Johnson is the 2021 Winner of the $2500 North Texas Art Writing Prize

by Glasstire February 24, 2021

The 2021 North Texas Writing Prize is supported in part by The Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation. For a full list of supporters, please see below. If you would like to support the Prize, please go here

Kevin Zander Johnson

Kevin Zander Johnson is the recipient of the 2021 Glasstire North Texas Art Writing Prize. In his winning essay, titled Do the Right Thing: Mookie, Sal, and the Stories We Tell, Johnson writes about Spike Lee’s landmark film, and how such powerful storytelling helps us see each other more clearly. The $2,500 prize includes the winning essay being published on Glasstire, and a virtual celebration in Johnson’s honor later this week.

Johnson writes to Glasstire about why he responded to the open call: “For obvious reasons, the year 2020 presented challenges for artists in our state, and it appears that 2021 will present its share of challenges too. The mainstream media continues to limit its coverage of the visual arts in Texas, and it does so during a time when the need for compelling and comprehensive art writing has never been greater. I have immense appreciation for Glasstire, which has worked to preserve the craft of professional arts writing online, and it does so while exploring new and innovative ways to evolve the conversation about aesthetics and bring together artists.

“This is massively important, for coverage of the visual arts plays an indispensable role in the artistic ecosystem. Artists and arts organizations, small and large, need to be noticed. They need recognition. When they are left unrecognized (as they often are by the mainstream media), they lose their audience, and without an audience, they fade away, weakening the arts community as a whole. Glasstire does its part to nourish and nurture the visual arts in Texas through illuminating coverage, through cogent, convictive arts criticism and honest, accessible dialogue. I am honored to receive this award from Glasstire because I have such admiration and respect for the amazing work that you do.”

As announced in October of last year, the 2021 North Texas Art Writing Prize is a competitive award designed to find and highlight emerging arts writers in Texas. This is the fourth year of the Prize; it began in the North Texas region, and in 2020 we focused on the San Antonio region. 2021 also marks the inaugural Greater Houston Prize.

Kevin Zander Johnson was born and raised in Arkansas, and he has lived and worked as a writer and university instructor in San Francisco, Taipei, Fayetteville, and now Dallas. He has studied in MFA programs at Saint Mary’s College of California and the University of Memphis. He is now pursuing his Ph.D. in Humanities and Literature at the University of Texas at Dallas. He is also an avid backpacker, comics reader, indie film watcher, and punk rock listener.

Judges for this round of the Prize included Anna Katherine Brodbeck, the Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the Dallas Museum of Art; lauren woods, artist and Assistant Professor of Studio Art at Brandeis University; Brandon Zech, Publisher of Glasstire; Christina Rees, Editor-in-Chief of Glasstire; and Christopher Blay, News Editor of Glasstire.

Thank you to our supporters of the 2021 North Texas Prize:

Presenting Sponsor
The Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation

Laura & Walter Elcock
Marguerite Steed Hoffman

Charles Dee Mitchell

Conduit Gallery
Lancaster Hotel Houston
Deedie Rose
Allison V. Smith & Barry Whistler
Karen Weiner
Sharon & Michael Young

Jimmie & Scott Hudson
Laura Hunt
Rainey Knudson
The Old Jail Art Center
James Pattison
Cindy Schwartz CCS Fine Art

Additional Supporters Include:
Liliana Bloch, Joan Davidow, Alison Hearst, Erica Stephens

About The Glasstire Art Writing Prize

The Glasstire Art Writing Prize is awarded to a senior undergraduate or graduate student at a Texas university. For this open call, students from art history, journalism, studio arts, philosophy, literature, and other departments at participating universities in the Greater Houston area were invited to submit articles with a word count between 750 and 1200 words about a work of art that they love, and why, or, due to the pandemic, about how art has sustained them over the last year.

Past Prizes

The 2021 Greater Houston Art Writing Prize winner was Justin Jannise, a doctoral student at the University of Houston pursuing Literature and Creative Writing. His winning essay was titled True North: How Heights Boulevard’s Sculpture Installation Saved Me in 2020, about the sustaining power of an outdoor sculpture show during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here’s an excerpt:

“But what does it mean?” is almost always the first question someone asks when presented with a perplexing artwork, before they look around for a figure of authority who can answer. Based on anecdotal evidence, I’d venture that these “authorities” rarely have the faintest idea, which is why they overcompensate with dazzling language. The fact remains that a giant polymer concrete cabbage cannot tell you what it means; it can only be what it is.

The 2020 San Antonio Art Writing Prize winner was Christina Frasier, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at San Antonio in the Anthropology Department, where she studies cultural sustainability in the face of gentrification. Her winning essay was titled Resistance In Place: Christopher Montoya’s Mural of Cesar Chavez, San Antonio, about an exceptional mural’s location and restoration in a San Antonio neighborhood that’s experiencing the forces of gentrification.

Here’s an excerpt:

Murals like Montoya’s make manifest a political act the Bay Area artist Jenny Odell calls “resistance-in-place.” In her 2019 book How to Do Nothing, she suggests placing a greater value on “non-scripted spaces” — and I would count South Flores Street as one of these unscripted spaces, where the story of the place is being written and rewritten all the time by the City of San Antonio, commercial forces, and the residents of the place itself.

The 2019 North Texas Art Writing Prize winner was Mathieu Debic, a Ph.D. student at UT Dallas, who wrote about David Lynch’s 1984 film Dune.

Here’s an excerpt from his submission, titled Working at the Movies:

“That Dune was a failed experiment has, in a sense, become part of its point. In order for watching movies to not feel like work, there has to exist the possibility of movies like Dune. Without taking the major risks that can lead to a complete flop, both aesthetically and financially, movies (and their makers) nowadays gravitate toward the “easy A” — a compromised product that no one truly loves, but gives no one any reason to complain. This is the compromise that makes movies boring, and like work.”

The 2018 North Texas Art Writing Prize winner was Melanie Shi, a student of Philosophy at the University of North Texas in Denton, who wrote about The Color Inside, a skyspace artwork by American artist James Turrell.

On the importance of arts writing, Christina Rees wrote for the inaugural Prize’s announcement, in her 2018 op-ed Why We Need Art Writers Now (More Than Ever):

“The Glasstire Art Writing Prize… can encourage and cultivate the voices who are interested in engaging with the vast amount of visual art that this state churns out. Artists not only deserve honest critical writing about their work. They want it. The best artists, especially, want it. And the glossy lifestyle magazines and ‘curated’ Insta-sites that only embrace the forced glamor and fluff around visual art aren’t giving them (or art fans) this, or starting any meaningful conversation around art and what it can actually do in our culture. Given our current political moment, this problem of lack of real dialogue is especially galling.”

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