By Howard Pousner
Gyun Hur, a 27-year-old Marietta resident who came to the U.S. from her native Korea at age 13, has won the first Hudgens Prize, a visual arts competition with an award of $50,000.
Hur was announced as the winner of the prize Tuesday night at the Jacqueline Casey Hudgens Center for the Arts during a private reception marking the opening of an exhibit of the competition’s five finalists. She broke into torrents of tears when Linda Lindeborg, Hudgens Prize committee chairwoman, tore open an envelope, Oscars style, and read her name.
The artist thanked the judges, her family in the audience and Hudgens officials, pledging that the award “will change my life.”
In an interview after the brief ceremony, Hur said, “The beginning of an artistic career does not guarantee financial security. … Now, I can really jump into opportunities that will help me continue to commit to art-making.”
The first-time competition drew 369 entries from across Georgia. In addition to the $50,000 check, Hur will be given a solo exhibit at the Gwinnett arts center in December 2011. The other finalists, who immediately encircled and hugged Hur, were Ruth Dusseault, Scott Ingram and Jiha Moon, all of Atlanta, and Hope Hilton of Winterville.
The prize money was donated by an anonymous foundation to the Hudgens, which created the competition to encourage the visual arts in the state. The arts center hopes to identify funding to offer the prize every other year.
A three-person panel of jurors – David Kiehl (New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art), Sylvie Fortin (Art Papers magazine) and Eungie Joo (New York’s New Museum) — met in Manhattan in August to view more than 2,000 submitted images. The same trio selected the prize winner based on pieces in the finalists exhibit, which will be on view through Feb. 19.
Hur’s installation, “She Prays Happiness,” was created from recycled silk cemetery flowers, shredded into small pieces and forming long bright stripes that extend across the gallery floor and then are continued in paint up a wall. The stripes replicate the Korean wedding blanket of the artist’s mother, Soon Hur. That reference “meshed with my interest in the ideas of loss, childhood memories and fantasy,” Gyun Hur said. “It’s very vulnerable.”
An accompanying video shows Hur’s mother and father, Woo Hur, working with their daughter to pluck the silk flower petals and then chop them with large paper cutters. Music by the Korean singer Patty Kim plays in the background, mixing with the steady rhythm of the paper cutters. Hur’s parents spent nearly a week helping their daughter install the piece.
Hur was born in Daegu, Korea, and her installations, sculpture and paintings are strongly influenced by her immigration experience — exploring geographical and cultural identity, as well as assimilation.
With finalist Moon serving as an interpreter, Woo Hur said of his daughter, “I didn’t know she would become an artist, but I knew she was very talented in many different things.” Crumpling a Kleenex with nervous energy, he added about the award, “It’s more than money, of course. This is going to help her tremendously, encouraging her so much.”
After undergraduate studies at the University of Georgia, Hur received her master’s from the Savannah College of Art and Design. To pay school loans, she works part-time for a medical billing company and tutors and babysits.
She called herself “a literal emerging artist,” but has exhibited in Atlanta, New York City, Chicago, Seattle and Vermont. In March, she will create a large-scale installation at Lenox Square, commissioned by the Atlanta nonprofit Flux Projects.
On her Web site (http://gyunhur.com/home.html), Hur blogged Wednesday morning that she didn’t sleep much Tuesday night. “Still in awe of what happened,” she wrote, “and feel so grateful and honored.”