Brian Jungen wins the Gershon Iskowitz Prize
I'm a touch behind on this, but I've been away; whatever the case, the AGO's Gershon Iskowitz Prize, 2010 edition, was awarded to Vancouver artist Brian Jungen this week, giving me no choice but to applaud the board for two savvy choices for the prize in a row, awarded to an artist for their "outstanding contribution to visual arts in Canada." Last year's winner was Toronto's Shary Boyle.
Jungen, in my opinion, is a great choice for any art prize, here or anywhere else; since 1998, when his breakout series "Prototypes for a New Understanding," in which he rebuilt Nike Air Jordans into the ceremonial masks of West Coast First Nations' tribes (Jungen is part First Nations himself), his hybrid practice of marrying mass-consumer culture with the sanctities of native peoples has been consistently mesmerizing, provocative and more than a little cheeky.
That said, I'm a little perplexed as to what the prize is meant to recognize; the "outstanding contribution" part leaves it a little open-ended, suggesting something like a lifetime achievement award -- something the Governor General's Awards, which equate more to an endurance prize than anything, have covered.
Given the two most recent winners, I'm inclined to think a slight internal tweak has been made by the selection committee, to recognize a generation still in the early stages of establishing what promises to be a long international career, rather than those at the opposite end. Which is good, even great, for the continued prospering of a generation of artists here that haven't succeeded because of institutional support, but in spite of it.
Jungen, meanwhile, has quite the collection of Canadian laurels, having claimed the $50,000 Sobey Prize back in 2002. Since then, his career has been nothing short of meteoric; the Vancouver Art Gallery mounted a major survey of his work in 2006, that traveled extensively (though signifcantly, not here), and at the moment, Jungen has a huge retrospective at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, showing work old and new, including an extraordinary-sounding new piece called "Crux" (I haven't seen it) which, by description, serves as something of a send-up of Bill Reid's iconic "Spirit of Haida Gwaii."
Iconoclastic to the last, one thing I feel confident in is that the work Jungen produces for the AGO next year as part of the Iskowitz prize will be one of the highlights of the season. Stay tuned.