The recent announcement of the Sobey Art Award Longlist is one of those rare events on the Canadian contemporary art calendar that, while not quite achieving the same fever pitch of the Turner Prize that I fondly/exasperatingly recall from my time in the UK, provides a tidy conversation piece around our more prolific artists. The motivation of a $70,000 prize doesn’t hinder interest, either.
That said, of the previous five winners, few have truly grabbed me by the proverbials – the exceptions being Annie Pootoogook (2006) and Jean-Pierre Gauthier (2004, and also presently showing at AGH for the benefit of all you fellow Hamiltonians), for much the same reasons that I was secretly hoping for Mario Doucette to win last year. I’m invariably attracted to the same recurring traits: a risky playfulness with charged subject matter, a fastidious sense of craft, a duplicitous meaning that tends to reflect something quirky about the Canadian condition (whatever that might be).
So with that unreliable optic, my entirely subjective, never-in-a-million-years shortlist for the 2009 Sobey Art Award is as follows:
WEST COAST AND YUKON (Longlist: Rhonda Weppler & Trevor Mahovsky; Luanne Martineau; Keith Langergraber; Evan Lee; Julie York)
This was the sort of list that served to remind me how remiss I can be about the West Coast, while a closer look at some of the contenders reminded me, on a purely subjective level, why that remains the case. On the other hand, the very little I was able to learn about Keith Langergraber was tantalizing enough that I wish I knew his work better. Failing that, I’ll put my money (or lack thereof) on Luanne Martineau, if only because I really dig the way she thinks.
Luanne Martineau, STARSHAKE, Installation view, 2008 (Image from Jessica Bradley Art + Projects)
PRAIRIES AND THE NORTH (Longlist: Paul Butler; Marcel Dzama; Sarah Anne Johnson; Jon Pylypchuk; Althea Thauberger
They may as well have called this the Winnipeg list this year, eh? Also one of the trickiest groups to narrow down, since Winnipeg invariably turns out droves of the sort of idiosyncratic work I adore (sidenote: is it still idiosyncratic if a single site produces it in droves?). Paul Butler has been digging out a fond place in my capricious heart ever since his modestly effective show at MKG127 a few months back, but Marcel Dzama has been a die-hard personal favourite going back some three years now (my first published review for MAP Magazine was of his first solo show in the UK at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery). So what’s a girl to do? That’s right, dodge slightly askew and go with the ever-so-slightly lesser-known Royal Art Lodger: Jon Pylypchuk.
Jon Pylypchuk, These things always end with 30 snakes in your face, mixed media installation, 2007 (image from artnet.com)
ONTARIO (Longlist: Shary Boyle; Christian Giroux & Daniel Young; Luis Jacob; Kelly Richardson; Derek Sullivan)
Both Luis Jacob and Shary Boyle seem the obvious choices, and I would be happy enough to see Kelly Richardson make the shortlist even though she might still have some ways to go relative to her peers in this group. This is a tough call, but I’ll go with my instinctive love of Shary Boyle.
Shary Boyle, Wicked Witch of the East, Porcelain, 2009 (image from Jessica Bradley Art + Projects
QUÉBEC (Longlist: David Altmejd; Raphaëlle de Groot; Manon De Pauw; Pascal Grandmaison; Adad Hannah)
David Altmejd’s name did trigger my inner fangirl, but his inclusion scarcely seems fair given the Venice-flavoured edge he enjoys over the competition. Also, both Adad Hannah and Raphaëlle de Groot made this list last year – the latter went as far as the shortlist, even. I’d like to see her do it again without getting smacked down by Tim Lee, but who am I kidding. David Altmejd, step right up, and bring your big shiny werewolves with you.
David Altmejd, The Index, mixed media installation, 2007
ATLANTIC (Longlist: Alexandra Flood; Tara K. Wells; Ilan Sandler; Graham Patterson; Joe McKay)
This one stumped me for a while. I kept considering Alexandra Flood – maybe I just craved a painter in my imaginary list, but like Kelly Richardson she’s not quite a perfect fit. So, if they mean Graeme Patterson, then that’s who I’m going with. Because his interactive Hockey Organ provided me with much entertainment at TIAF a couple years back, and it’s not like this list was going to be rich in variety anyway.
Graeme Patterson, Hockey Organ, 2007
And if I’m being somewhat less giddily self-serving, let’s call it Luanne Martineau, Althea Thauberger, Luis Jacob, David Altmejd and Ilan Sandler. Either way, the real shortlist will be announced on May 1.
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