Winning 2024 Dorner Prize Projects Reflect on RISD Museum’s History and Practices

installation view of winning concept on outside of Radeke Building

“The RISD Museum’s Radeke Building exhibits classical and colonial aesthetics that reflected the museum’s mission and identity when it was built in 1926,” says Furniture Design major and Brown|RISD Dual Degree student Naya Lee Chang BRDD 24 FD. “Nearly 100 years later, Bricked Over Windows updates that aesthetic to reflect the museum’s current goal of representing diverse cultures and communities across race and ethnicity.”

Chang is discussing her Dorner Prize-winning project, which was on view at the RISD Museum through Commencement weekend. It is one of two proposals to win the 2024 Dorner Prize, the other being soft presence, hard absence by Sculpture grad student Linda Sok MFA 25 SC. Both site-specific interventions respond to the museum’s historical and contemporary contexts, collections and/or architectural idiosyncrasies, as laid out in the Dorner Prize Competition rules.

Established in 1995, the Dorner Prize is awarded annually to RISD undergraduate and graduate students. Last year’s prizes went to grad student Claudia Peck MLA 25 (Passive Pollination) and Interior Architecture students Priyata Bosamia MDes 23 and Shivani Pinapotu MDes 23 (unheard voices).

Bricked Over Windows updates the museum’s aesthetic to reflect its current goal of representing diverse cultures and communities across race and ethnicity.”

Dorner Prize winner Naya Chang
Chang works with museum installation professionals outside of the Radeke Building on large scaffolding
Naya Lee Chang works with RISD Museum staff to install her Dorner Prize-winning project.

“As a lifelong art and museum nerd, I considered it an honor and a pleasure to review this year’s incredible Dorner Prize proposals,” says juror Hillel O’Leary 11 IL, an assistant professor in RISD’s Industrial Design department. “Seeing the ways that students are reimagining museum spaces and practices has helped to revitalize the idea that museums can and should be sites for critical discourse that not only inspire, but also challenge us.”

O’Leary shared jurying responsibilities with RISD Museum Nancy Elizabeth Prophet Curatorial Assistant Gabrielle Walker, who describes the submissions as “dynamic” and appreciates their wide use of materials and techniques in conversation with the museum’s galleries and exteriors. “Both of this year’s winners proposed unique designs that will serve as great conversation starters for museum visitors,” she adds.

Before even entering the museum on the Benefit Street side, visitors encounter the two new window frames Chang created, one inspired by Islamic brick architecture and the other by Buddhist temples in Bagan, Myanmar built between 1100 and 1300 AD. The first employs a four-centered arch, geometric patterns and glazed tiles, and the second a flaming pediment detail over a wall featuring a tiered structure.

“Providence is crowded with brick buildings that reference Greco-Roman heritage and industrial history,” says Chang, “but around the world, brickwork exists in myriad distinctive forms. Humans have been making and using bricks for over 10,000 years, and they remain a highly sustainable building material, as they are produced efficiently from abundant natural resources.”

Linda Sok installs her piece in the Chace Center lobby
Dorner Prize-winning installation by Linda Sok showing threads and fabrics forming an abstract wall hanging
Dorner Prize winner Linda Sok installs her piece, soft presence, hard absence, in the Chace Center lobby.

On the other side of the museum, in the lobby of the Chace Center, visitors will encounter the second winning installation, by Sok: soft presence, hard absence. The project attempts to make works of art not currently on display in the museum more accessible to students and other visitors.

“The idea emerged when I had difficulty accessing objects from my Cambodian culture that are owned by the RISD Museum,” Sok recalls. Her project focuses on reproductions of the objects themselves as well as accompanying documents, such as letters of correspondence, provenance, research papers and condition and treatment reports. Sok’s goal is to bring the museum’s largely invisible processes and practices into the open.

“The threads wrap around museum paperwork and objects in an attempt to unravel their hidden stories, making them real and tangible once more.”

Dorner Prize Winner Linda Sok

She envisioned an alternative to current systems that offers a structure in which museum curators can display objects and accompanying information using soft fabrics and silk threads that drape from the ceiling to the floor. The variations in the fabrics’ opacity, Sok explains, “speak to the layers of structure that work to care for museum objects and the flaws that can exist in such structures.”

“The threads wrap around museum paperwork and objects in an attempt to unravel their hidden stories,” she adds, “making them real and tangible once more.”

Simone Solondz / images courtesy RISD Museum
June 3, 2024

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