‘Genius’ grants awarded

A Los Angeles artist who specializes in incorporating found objects into his pieces and a USC law professor whose own battle with schizophrenia has informed her advocacy for those suffering from mental illness are among the 24 winners of this year’s “genius” grants from the MacArthur Foundation.

Mark Bradford, Elyn Saks and 22 other winners will each receive $500,000 over the next five years to spend any way they please.

For Bradford, 47, the MacArthur award is the third major prize he has received in the last three years. In 2006, he received the $100,000 Bucksbaum Award from the Whitney Museum of American Art and the $50,000 United States Artists fellowship given by a consortium of foundations.

Bradford said Monday that he always has a moment of self-consciousness when he receives such an award, then realizes he got it for what he does -- not for himself specifically. “I say, ‘Well, this is why I got the award, so I am just going to keep doing what I do.’ ”

What he does is construct massively scaled, abstract collages that he assemblesfrom signs and other materials collected mostly from his neighborhood in South Los Angeles.


Times art critic Christopher Knight said in an interview Monday: “Bradford has developed a marvelous method that fuses collage, which sticks together fragments of found images and signs, and decollage -- its opposite -- which tears images and signs asunder. His subjects are small, like daily life in an urban neighborhood, and monumental, like Hurricane Katrina and the trauma of an entire city. The work holds in tension a continuous cycle of society coming apart at the seams, patching itself back together and then coming apart again.”

Among Bradford’s recent projects was a 22-foot-high, 64-foot-long ark constructed from salvaged plywood barricade fencing that he shipped to New Orleans last year for an exhibit commemorating Katrina. In April 2008, Bradford made a Katrina-themed installation on the roof of a gallery across the street from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The piece -- an enormous SOS sign visible only from the air -- said simply “Help us.”

Saks, 53, suffered from schizophrenia all her life, but kept it hidden while excelling in her academic studies, receiving a philosophy degree from Oxford University and a law degree from Yale University before joining the faculty at USC. She is also an adjunct professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego, where she does research about society’s rejection of the mentally ill and how high-functioning schizophrenics cope.

Saks came out of the mental health closet with her 2007 memoir, “The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness.” The book described the night terrors she had suffered throughout her life, her earlier beliefs that she had mentally caused the deaths of thousands of people, and the often-inhumane treatment she had received at mental health facilities.

Saks said in an interview Monday that she would use at least some of the prize money to extend her memoir by interviewing other people with schizophrenia who are doing well.

“When I’m traveling, people always say, ‘You’re unique.’ Well, I’m really not,” she said. “I would just like to tell other people’s stories as well to further give people hope and understanding. . . . Some of their stories are just so inspirational.”

The awards have been given for nearly three decades by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “to celebrate and support exceptional men and women of all ages and in all fields who dream, explore, take risks, invent, and build in new and unexpected ways in the interest of shaping a better future for us all.”

Lynsey Addario

35, a photojournalist in Istanbul documenting humanitarian crises.

Maneesh Agrawala

37, a UC Berkeley computer vision technologist devising new ways to visualize complex information.

Timothy Barrett

59, a University of Iowa papermaker preserving traditional Western and Japanese techniques.

Edwidge Danticat

49, a Miami novelist who chronicles the Haitian immigrant experience.

Rackstraw Downes

69, a New York painter of minutely detailed landscapes.

Esther Duflo

36, an MIT economist analyzing cycles of poverty in Africa and Asia.

Deborah Eisenberg

63, a New York short-story writer who crafts tales of contemporary American life.

Lin He

35, a UC Berkeley molecular biologist who studies the role of microRNAs -- small single strands of RNA that regulate gene expression -- in cancer.

Peter Huybers

35, a Harvard University climate scientist developing theories to explain global climate change.

James Longley

37, a Seattle filmmaker exploring conflicts in the Middle East.

L. Mahadevan

44, an applied mathematician at Harvard investigating the behavior of complex systems.

Heather McHugh

61, a University of Washington poet who embraces a variety of wordplay.

Jerry Mitchell

50, an investigative reporter for the Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger examining unsolved murders from the civil rights era.

Rebecca Onie

32, of Boston’s Project Health who is exploring the links between poverty and poor health.

Richard Prum

48, a Yale ornithologist who studies avian development, evolution and behavior.

John A. Rogers

42, an applied physicist at the University of Illinois who develops flexible electronic devices.

Jill Seaman

57, of Old Fangak, Sudan, who explores new ways to treat infectious diseases.

Beth Shapiro

33, a Pennsylvania State University evolutionary biologist specializing in extinct and severely challenged species.

Daniel Sigman

40, a Princeton biogeochemist exploring the ocean’s fertility over the last 2 million years.

Mary Tinetti

58, a Yale geriatric physician who studies falls in the elderly.

Camille Utterback

39, a San Francisco digital artist whose compositions are activated by human presence and motion.

Theodore Zoli

43, a bridge engineer at HNTB Corp. in New York who studies ways to protect transportation infrastructure during natural disasters.