Sobey Art Award 101

Heading to The Coast's Best Of Party? It's your last chance to see one of the year's best art shows.

Shary Boyle

  • Shary Boyle

Right before the Sobey Art Award announcement a few weeks ago, I spoke to AGNS director Ray Cronin and Rob Sobey about their trip to London for the Turner Prize announcement. The Turner, which is presented annually to a British artist under 50, is as well known and discussed in the UK as the Oscars are in North America. Sure, a lot of the media attention is paid to notorious behaviour at the events themselves, and to "questionable" art (elephant dung, porn, blow-up dolls, etc., tend to get the public talking, especially as it somehow confirms many people's distrust of art in general), but people talk. About art. Sobey and Cronin, like many others, wonder why we can't have the same thing here in Canada.


Art isn't scary, and you don't need to "get" it or understand painful artspeak to enjoy the experience. When you go to The Coast's Best of party, take a few minutes, go downstairs and check out the Sobey Art Award exhibition, which the AGNS is kindly keeping open for another day, just for you!


Maybe you're wondering how this art got here. These are the five finalists in the Sobey Art Award, the country's biggest art prize, at $50,000 for the winner. And it started right here in Halifax. That's very cool. The work you see in the gallery is not what was judged—the winner David Altmejd was chosen for his body of work. But this piece is representative of his overall practice and career so far.

The award rules are pretty straightforward: any Canadian artist under the age of 40, who has shown their work in a public or commercial art gallery within 18 months, can be nominated by recognized curators, gallery directors, critics, dealers and other, established artists.

Unlike other national prizes like the Polaris Prize for "best Canadian album of the year," the Sobey Art Award recognizes regional talent, which, in some ways, is a much more equitable way of narrowing down your choices. (Disclosure: I'm on the Polaris jury and sometimes it's very difficult to convince other jurors from thousands of miles away to pay attention to music from this 'hood. Kick and scream all you like about, say, Dog Day or Jenn Grant, and it's still hard to be heard over the Metric roar.)

  • Marcel Dzama

FIve artists from each region (West Coast & Yukon, Prairies and the North, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic) are nominated for the longlist, which is then reduced to a shortlist of five finalists, selected by a rotating curatorial panel of five director/curator types—one from each region. But here's where it gets interesting again. Like any panel of judges, from Olympic figure skating to Project Runway, curatorial judges have their own set of personal criteria. Some get all juiced up on theory, others see future potential, and others respond with starry eyes to international recognition. Maybe the artist's age has something to do with it. Lord only knows how this Sobey Art Award panel duked out their final decision, which they did while sequestered on the day of the event. I think this year must have been the most difficult to date.

  • Luanne Martineau

If you find yourself overwhelmed by all the crystals and colours and puppets, there will be tours during the party. Arty people love to talk art. So let's get this conversation going.


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