Created in 2002 by the Sobey Art Foundation, the Sobey Art Award is the country’s pre-eminent award for contemporary Canadian art. It is given every year to an artist under forty who has exhibited in a public or commercial art gallery within the eighteen months prior to being nominated. Selected from around a hundred candidates nominated by a curatorial panel, the winner is awarded $50,000, and the other four finalists receive $5,000 each, for a total of $70,000 in prize money presented annually at a gala event.
In addition to the awarding of the prize, an exhibition of the finalists’ works travels to one of the five major regions represented and, the following year, is presented at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the main organizer and administrator of the award and the exhibition. This year, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal has the honour of welcoming the five finalists for the prestigious prize: Brendan Lee Satish Tang, West Coast and Yukon; Daniel Barrow, Prairies and the North; Brendan Fernandes, Ontario; Patrick Bernatchez, Québec; and Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby, Atlantic. The exhibition is curated by Sarah Fillmore, Chief Curator, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and Curator, Sobey Art Award.
“The Sobey Art Award highlights the brightest in contemporary art,” says Fillmore. She adds that “the panel has worked hard to reduce the long list,” from twenty-five semifinalists to the five finalists, one for each region. This year, the Curatorial Panel consists of: Grant Arnold, Curator, Vancouver Art Gallery; Jen Budney, Associate Curator, Mendel Art Gallery; Philip Monk, Director, Art Gallery of York University; David Diviney, Curator, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia; and Lesley Johnstone, Curator, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. They will have the difficult task of choosing the winner, who will be announced at the gala this coming November 18 at the Musée d’art contemporain.
Representing the West Coast is Brendan Lee Satish Tang. Tang was born in Dublin, Ireland and currently resides in Kamloops, B.C. He produces hybrid ceramic objects that combine meticulous craftsmanship, traditions of Chinese porcelain and French ormolu with motifs and forms from contemporary manga and techno-pop cultures.
Winnipeg-born artist Daniel Barrow is representing the Prairies. He uses obsolete technologies to present narratives revolving around the practices of drawing and collecting. Since 1993, he has created comic book narratives and adapted them to “manual” forms of animation by projecting, layering and manipulating drawings on overhead projectors.
Born in 1979 in Kenya, Brendan Fernandes, the Ontario finalist, immigrated to Canada in the 1990s. Using multiple media, his works address post-colonialism and question how identity is constructed in globalized cultures.
The Québec representative, Patrick Bernatchez, develops complex multimedia projects that evolve over a number of years and centre mainly on what he describes as a kind of “chronicle of a death foretold.”
Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby, finalists for the Atlantic region, have been working collaboratively since 1994. Focusing mainly on video installation, their work explores grand ideas such as innocence, good and evil, and the human relationship to the natural world.