Five Stellar Artists Vying for 2014 Sobey Art Award

Update: Congratulations to Nadia Myre, winner of the 2014 Sobey Art Award! In commenting on Nadia Myre’s achievement, the Jury issued the following statement: “Myre has built a distinctive visual vocabulary by translating her experience and that of others into works that employ traditional crafts within a contemporary, multidisciplinary practice. Her artwork creates a symbolic image of wounding and resilience that conveys something deeply human while addressing urgent social concerns.” 

The winner of the 2014 Sobey Art Award will be announced this evening at a gala event at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Established in 2002 by Donald Sobey (former Chair of the National Gallery of Canada), the Sobey Art Award has become one of Canada’s most prestigious contemporary art prizes. The Award focuses on emerging artists, and is limited to artists under the age of 40, who have exhibited within the past 18 months. Juried by a panel of prominent curators from across the country, this year’s Award has a total cash value of $100,000.

The real prize, however, is the recognition an artist receives, along with the prestige of being featured in the Sobey Art Award exhibition. Sarah Fillmore, Curator of the exhibition and Chief Curator of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, has witnessed the impact that finishing first, or even being longlisted, can have on an artist’s career. As she recently told NGC Magazine, “We’d like to think they’re all winners. . . . Twenty-five artists, and then five artists get a national moment or stage, and the hope is that that has a lasting impression for those artists — some lasting outcome.”

A significant number of Sobey stars are well represented in the NGC collection. Recent winners such as Daniel Young & Christian Giroux (2011), David Altmejd (2009), Annie Pootoogook (2006), as well as the inaugural winner, Brian Jungen (2002), are just a few of the artists whose works can be found in the Gallery collection. Ranging from large Modernist sculptures to assemblage to drawings, the Gallery’s works by Sobey winners reflect — as does the Award itself — a broad cross-section of artistic disciplines and regions.

Each year, the shortlist includes one artist from each of five regions. Following a three-month selection process, which results in a longlist of young Canadian artists, a curatorial panel comes up with a final shortlist of five contenders. This year’s list includes Evan Lee (West Coast and the Yukon), Neil Farber and Michael Dumontier (Prairies and the North), Chris Curreri (Ontario), Nadia Myre (Quebec), and Graeme Patterson (Atlantic), each of whom is briefly profiled below.



Evan Lee, Ship Model from Untitled Migrant Ship Project (2009–12), 3D printed sculpture, 72.0 cm (ship length). Courtesy of the artist / Monte Clark Gallery

Born in 1975, Evan Lee started out as a landscape and street photographer. Since then, his art practice has focused on outsiders who have been rendered invisible by the anonymity of city life and culture. His current work investigates marginalized groups such as elderly women, refugees, political activists, and migrant workers. Earlier this year, Lee had a solo exhibition at the Richmond Art Gallery and at Monte Clark Gallery in Vancouver. He was also longlisted for the Sobey Art Award in 2009.



Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber, Animals with Sharpies (series) [2009–12], acrylic and marker on hardboard, 30 x 22 cm. © Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber

Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber were both founding members of the Royal Art Lodge: a collective established at the University of Manitoba in 1996, with a roster of other notable Prairie-based artists such as Marcel Dzama and Jon Pylypchuk. Together, they collaborated on hundreds of absurd, comedic drawings and paintings paired with text. Although the group disbanded in 2008, Dumontier and Farber continue to produce cartoon-like illustrations of fantastical worlds, replete with bizarre figures and strange creatures. Behind the cheery imagery and humour, however, the duo makes allusions to existential issues such as death, loneliness and depression. Over the years, the NGC has acquired a number Dumontier’s serigraphs.



Chris Curreri, Medusa (2013), cement, 53.3 x 58.4 x 30.4 cm. © Chris Curreri

A graduate of both Ryerson University and Bard College, Chris Curreri’s work is all about dialectical tensions: presence and absence, the living and the dead, figure and abstraction. In addition to these binary opposites, the archetypal male nude, depicted as a passive subject in classical sculpture, remains another preoccupation. Curreri’s work is in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston, Ontario) and Hart House at the University of Toronto.



Nadia Myre, Scarscapes: Stitch (2010), digital print, 192 x 110 cm. © Nadia Myre

Nadia Myre is a multidisciplinary artist from Montreal, and an Algonquin member of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation. Themes of identity, memory, history and language dominate her work, which is sometimes collaborative or participatory. The NGC’s recent quinquennial of Aboriginal art, Sakahàn, featured several works by Myre, including Indian Act (2002), in which she and a team of over 200 people meticulously beaded the 56 pages of the Indian Act as a subversive gesture of reclamation. Myre has been longlisted for the Sobey Art Award on three previous occasions — in 2011, 2012 and 2013.



Graeme Patterson, Secret Citadel animation still (2013), digital still, 4288 x 2848 px. © Graeme Patterson

Born in Saskatoon, but currently based in Sackville, New Brunswick, Graeme Patterson is known for his meticulously constructed stop-motion animations and installations that combine sculpture, sound and video into an enthralling narrative. Patterson creates miniature worlds or alternate realities that mesh fact with fiction. The artist first became known for his installation Woodrow, which re-created the rural, soon-to-be ghost town of Woodrow, Saskatchewan, where his family farm was located. The Grain Elevator (2005) is part of this work, as well as part of the NGC collection. His practice is characterized by a fascination with memory and childhood. Patterson was previously longlisted for the Sobey Art Award in 2009.

The annual Sobey Art Award exhibition features the five finalists. It was a definite challenge for Fillmore to capture these five disparate art practices within a relatively small exhibition. She hopes, however, that the exhibition will give visitors “a little amuse-bouche of each of the artists — not a full meal, but definitely a taste — and that they will go away wanting more.”

What remains clear is that, no matter which artist wins tonight, the Sobey Art Award represents a well-deserved career milestone for young Canadian artists.

The Sobey Art Award exhibition is on view at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until January 11, 2015. Please click here for more information. 

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