Sobey Art Award 2021: Artists in Action

Sobey Art Prize 2021 logo


Since the inception of the Sobey Art Award in 2001, its goal has been to support artists from across Canada. Because of the profound impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on artistic practices and livelihoods, changes were made in 2020 to the Award – administered jointly by the Sobey Art Foundation and the National Gallery of Canada – which is evolving again this year to better help those it honours. 

For this annual prize, a jury comprised of arts professionals selects a longlist of 25 artists and artist teams. The artists represent every region of the country: West Coast & Yukon, Prairies & North, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic. One artist from each region is named to the five-member shortlist and their works are presented in an exhibition of finalists. The winner, and recipient of the $100,000 top prize, is announced at a special gala event during the exhibition. The other four finalists are awarded $25,000 each, and the remaining twenty longlisted artists receive $2,000 each.    

Last year, at the onset of the pandemic, the Gallery and the Sobey Art Foundation decided not to name a shortlist or an individual winner of the 2020 Sobey Art Award. In light of urgent and considerable hardships, it was considered more meaningful to award instead each of the 25 artists a prize of $25,000.

This year, the Sobey Art Award is adopting a structure that borrows the best from both models. The 2021 Sobey Art Award winner will receive the $100,000 top prize and the four finalists will receive $25,000 each. The longlisted artists, however, will now be awarded $10,000 each. This represents a significant cash investment in more artists at a time when regular resources are limited, while simultaneously rekindling the promotion and opportunity that benefit participants in the later stages of the competition.     

Like the British Turner Prize, the Sobey Art Award – named after the late Canadian businessperson, art collector and philanthropist Frank H. Sobey – recognizes Canada’s young artists who are defining contemporary practice both at home and abroad. It’s an honour to chair the jury for this national award for the first time, and I look forward to discovering artists from coast – to coast – to coast through this experience,” says Sasha Suda, Director of the NGC. Sobey Art Foundation chair Rob Sobey says the intent of the award is “to stimulate interest, discussion and debate regarding contemporary Canadian art and to shine a spotlight on the creative minds across this country whose energies and passions are devoted to creating that art.”

Since the naming of Okanagan-based sculptor Brian Jungen as the inaugural Sobey recipient in 2002, the award has highlighted the work of more than 350 artists. Past winners include Hamilton-born Kapwani Kiwanga, who last year, also won France’s top art honour, the Prix Marcel Duchamp, as well as sculptor and installation artist David Altmejd, whose work has been treated to major surveys in Montreal and Europe. Toronto- and Berlin-based filmmaker Stephanie Comilang was the most recent winner of the Sobey Art Award in 2019. The list of Sobey’s 2020 honourees can be found here.       


Nominations for the 2021 Sobey Art Award are now open. Work of the five finalists will be presented in a group exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in Fall 2021; for more information, see Sobey Art Award. Share this article and also subscribe to our newsletters to stay up-to-date on the latest articles, Gallery exhibitions, news and events, and to learn more about art in Canada.​

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