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"Picasso's Demoiselles: The Untold Origins of a Modern Masterpiece"

The winner of the 2020 Robert Motherwell Book Award is Picasso’s Demoiselles: The Untold Origins of a Modern Masterpiece (Duke University Press) by Suzanne Preston Blier. The award carries a $10,000 prize for the author.

This book uncovers the previously unknown history of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, one of the twentieth century’s most important, celebrated, and studied paintings. Drawing on her expertise in African art and newly discovered documents and sources, Professor Blier reads the painting not as a simple bordello scene but as Picasso’s interpretation of the diversity of representations of women from around the world that he encountered in a wide variety of photographs and sculptures. These representations are seen to be central to understanding the painting’s creation and help identify the demoiselles as global figures, mothers, grandmothers, lovers, and sisters, as well as part of the colonial world of the period. In this profoundly insightful work, Blier fundamentally transforms what we know about this revolutionary and iconic work.

Suzanne Preston Blier (Ph.D. 1981 Columbia) currently serves as the Allen Whitehill Clowes Professor of Fine Arts and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. She is also a member of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science and a faculty associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. Her work focuses primarily on African art, architecture, and culture.

Professor Blier’s books include African Vodun (1995), Royal Arts of Africa (1998), and Art and Risk in Ancient Yoruba: Ife History, Power, and Identity, c. 1300 (2014). Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous magazines, journals, and edited volumes, including African Arts, Journal of African History, American Journal of Semiotics, Res: Anthropology and Art, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians and The Art Bulletin. In 2018 her chapter, “The African urban past: Historical Perspectives on the Metropolis,” first published in David Adjaye’s African Metropolitan Architecture (2011) was selected for inclusion in the Getty Conservation Institute’s publication: Historic Cities: Issues in Urban Conservation (Spring 2019), a volume identified as a collection of “classic” texts that have been influential in the history of thinking and practice in the field of urban conservation. In 2015 Homme Blanc/Homme Noir: Impressions d’Afrique, which includes Blier’s “L’Afrique et l’Occident: une introduction,” received the Prix International du Livre d’Art Tribal.

In 2018 Professor Blier was honored with a Yoruba chieftaincy title in Nigeria, Otun Yeye Obalufon, in recognition of her scholarship on ancient Ife. In 2019 she received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Vermont in recognition of her scholarship on African art and her leadership in online mapping.