An embarassment of riches: Ontario's Sobey nominees, tomorrow night at Cambridge Galleries
Back in 2002, a Nova Scotia grocery magnate decided that it would be a good idea to hand out $50,000 every couple of years to an up-an-coming Canadian artist, to help a promising career gain momentum. To say that it's worked is an undestatement. By focusing on young (under 40, that is) emerging artists, the Sobey Prize has generated a level of excitement and vitality the country's visual arts scene has probably never known: Putting the focus on future potential, not past achievement - like, say, the stuffy and staid Governor General's Awards -- Sobey has done what no-one else in Canada has been able to do: Generate actual enthusiasm about the country's visual culture.
Now an annual affair, and upped to $70,000 (the winner takes home the $50K; each runner up gets $5K), Sobey has doled out its financial accolades to such artists as Brian Jungen, Annie Pootoogook and, last year, Tim Lee. And this year's field is probably the strongest yet, with the region-specific shortlist having been boiled down to Luanne Martineau, for the West Coast and Yukon; Marcel Dzama, for Prairies and North; David Altmejd for Quebec; and for Ontario, Toronto's Shary Boyle (that's one of her ceramic pieces, from 2008).
The betting line suggests it would be foolhardy to wager against Dzama, probably, along with Jungen, the most prolific, visible, bankable Canadian artist working today, of any age. But the long list for Ontario, meanwhile, reveals the embarrassment of riches we have in emerging artists here. With the shortlist whittled down to one representative, Boyle, the talent left on the floor seems worthy of another award all on its own.
There being no local grocery magnate stepping up on that count -- Westons, take note; the Loblaws Prize has a nice ring -- we'lll have to settle for the Cambridge Galleries' upcoming show of Ontarian Sobey long-listers, which includes Derek Sullivan, Luis Jacob, Kelly Richardson, the team of Christian Giroux and Daniel Young, and, of course, Boyle. The show opens tomorrow (FRI) at 7:30, with a free bus service departing the Gladstone Hotel at 5:30 pm. For a tour through your hometown/province's explosive artistic potential, it'll be hard to beat.