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Guggenheim Social Practice Initiative Commissions New Work by Artist Shaun Leonardo

Funded by Grant from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust
Performance on June 21 to Explore State of Public Debate in Contemporary Society


As part of its social practice initiative, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has commissioned artist and activist Shaun Leonardo to create a work, made possible by a grant from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust.

In this new project, titled Primitive Games, Leonardo, who is known for his ongoing work exploring masculinity, criminal justice, and race, will examine the state of public debate in contemporary society. The artist will collaborate with four seemingly divided communities on an urgent social topic, culminating in a live performance and reception on June 21, 2018.

Launched in 2015 with the Edmond de Rothschild Foundations, Guggenheim Social Practice considers the ways in which artists and the museum can partner to expand community engagement. Guggenheim Social Practice artists are selected based on their innovative work in the field of socially engaged art, as well as their ability to forge connections with members of the public in unexpected and impactful ways. A key component of the initiative is promoting a dialogue about social practice art and the role museums play through programming, impact evaluation, and scholarship. The inaugural commissions were made possible by a grant from the Edmond de Rothschild Foundations, and included a project by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and collaboration by Lenka Clayton and Jon Rubin.

The current commission is part of an unprecedented $6 million program—inaugurated by the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York University, and 19 New York City organizations—to pioneer new ways for arts-based organizations to be positive, relevant, and inspiring forces in the daily lives of diverse communities.

Guggenheim Social Practice is organized by curatorial and education staff from the Guggenheim, including Anna Harsanyi, Project Manager, Guggenheim Social Practice; Kim Kanatani, Deputy Director and Gail Engelberg Director of Education; Nat Trotman, Curator, Performance and Media; Sharon Vatsky, Director of School and Family Programs; Christina Yang, Director of Public Programs; and Joan Young, Director of Curatorial Affairs.

Shaun Leonardo

Shaun Leonardo (b. 1979, Queens, New York) creates artwork that negotiates societal expectations of manhood, namely definitions surrounding black and brown masculinities, along with notions of achievement, collective identity, and the experience of failure. Through his performance practice, Leonardo fosters the political potential of attention and discomfort as a means to create awareness and shift perspective. He received his BA from Bowdoin College, Maine, and his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. His works have appeared as solo presentations at the High Line, The 8th Floor, the Brooklyn Museum, the Queens Museum, and, for Performa in 2007, El Museo del Barrio (all in New York). He also has shown his work at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, and in group exhibitions at MoMA PS1, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among many others. Leonardo recently received an award from Creative Capital, and he previously has been recognized by the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture; New York Studio School; Lower Manhattan Cultural Council; Art Matters; New York Foundation for the Arts; McColl Center for Art and Innovation; Franklin Furnace; and The Jerome Foundation. He is a current artist-in-residence at Smack Mellon and the lead teaching artist and organizer of Assembly, an arts-based diversion program created in partnership with Recess. Leonardo lives in Brooklyn.


Established in 1966 by a bequest from the estate of chemist and industrialist William R. Kenan, Jr., the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, focuses on awarding grants in the areas of K–12 education, higher education, whole community health, arts and culture, and historic preservation.


Founded in 1937, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is dedicated to promoting the understanding and appreciation of art, primarily of the modern and contemporary periods, through exhibitions, education programs, research initiatives, and publications. The Guggenheim constellation of museums that began in the 1970s when the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, was joined by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, has since expanded to include the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (opened 1997) and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (currently in development). The Guggenheim Foundation continues to forge international collaborations that celebrate contemporary art, architecture, and design within and beyond the walls of the museum, including the Guggenheim Social Practice initiative, Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, and The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative. More information about the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation can be found at

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