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"Decision, coloured pencil on canvas"
Justin Ogilvie, "Decision, coloured pencil on canvas," 2006, 37” X 37”. Ogilvie was a finalist for the 2007 Kingston Prize.
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Steven Shearer, "Longhairs (detail)," crayon on paper. Collection of Eva Presenhuber, Zurich. Shearer was on the shortlist for the 2006 Sobey Art Award.
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"Doing and Looking, Looking and Doing"
Etienne Zack, "Doing and Looking, Looking and Doing," 2006, acrylic and oil on canvas, 54” X 60”. Zack won the 2005 RBC Painting Competition.
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"Vancouver artist Eric Metcalfe"
Vancouver artist Eric Metcalfe says art competitions bring much-needed recognition to young artists.
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"Composition (Windy Day)"
Annie Pootoogook, "Composition (Windy Day)," 2006, pencil crayon, 20” X 26”. Collection of John and Joyce Price. Pootoogook was the winner of the 2006 Sobey Art Award.
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"A Memory Lasts Forever"
Althea Thauberger, "A Memory Lasts Forever," 2004, digital video, 29:00. Thauberger was shortlisted for the 2004 Sobey Art Award.
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"But Where the Danger is Grows the Saving Power Also, Part 1: Fences"
Tomas Svab, "But Where the Danger is Grows the Saving Power Also, Part 1: Fences," 2005, pigment inkjet print mounted on aluminum. Svab was the National Winner of the 2005 BMO 1st Art! Competition.
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"In My Mind I Live in New York"
Rachelle Viader Knowles, "In My Mind I Live in New York," 2005, three-channel synchronized video installation featuring Bernie Flaman. Knowles was a finalist for the 2007 Sobey Art Award.
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Maegan Hill-Carroll, "Untitled," 2005, colour photographs, C-prints, diptych. Hill-Carroll was a finalist in the 2005 BMO 1st Art! Competition.
WIN PLACE SHOW
In the ever-growing world of fine art competitions, what does it mean to make the shortlist?
By Heather Ramsay
Tomas Svab was like hundreds of other art students in Canada in the spring of 2005. He was scrambling to finish his last year at Vancouver’s Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design while juggling practical problems — finding enough room to work at school, making do with equipment shortages and wondering about the amount of space he’d have to hang his photo installation in the overcrowded grad show.
But within a few short months, things had taken a different turn. Svab was named the national winner of the BMO Financial Group’s 1st Art! Invitational Student Art Competition and he along with 13 other finalists from across the country were flown to Toronto, put up in the best hotels, featured in a gala show and awarded cash prizes — a significant advantage for a group of struggling students.
News about artists and art competitions may not be splashed across Canadian front pages (like the Turner Prize in contemporary arts in the United Kingdom), but over the last decade several national prizes like the RBC Painting Competition, the Sobey Art Award, BMO 1st Art! and the Kingston Prize in Portraiture have done their part to raise the profile of Canadian artists, and have often boosted their careers.
It’s one thing to get an achievement award after a lifetime of dedication to a creative career, but as Vancouver’s arbiter of the avant-garde, Eric Metcalfe says, younger artists need a hit of recognition every once in a while too.
Over the years, Metcalfe has won many prominent B.C. and Canadian awards (including this year’s Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, recognized as one of the key “lifetime achievement” awards) but the conceptual and performance art he’s been making since the mid-1960s have not always been well appreciated by the public. Metcalfe knows from his own experience that without awards and grants, many Canadian artists working in experimental forms, like performance art, new media and video arts, would not be working today. “We wouldn’t be practicing art, especially those doing work that is not the norm,” he says.
Vying for a chance at an award is important, but Metcalfe likes to give students a reality check, too. Art schools across Canada are graduating thousands every year and at a recent ceremony in Alberta he told the grads to look around. “Only three of you will become artists,” he said. “That’s how tough it is.”
That’s why competitions, which give emerging artists first-hand exposure to media and critics, are so important. The chance to interact with other artists from across this far-flung nation is also vital. But nothing beats the privilege of a young artist having work viewed by an expert curatorial panel and a keen group of collectors, says Patricia Blakeney, director of Vancouver’s Diane Farris Gallery — a space known for cultivating young artists’ careers. “The first and most important thing is that the work is viewed by important people across Canada,” she says of the growing body of national art competitions.
Photographer Maegan Hill-Carroll of Winnipeg knows first-hand how important this exposure is. As a regional winner in BMO’s 2005 competition, she met a bank executive at the gala who purchased a print of her winning piece — her first major sale. She says winning the prize helped her see beyond her Bachelor of Fine Arts. Now working on a Masters of Fine Arts in Photography at the University of California at Los Angeles, Hill-Carroll says the experience boosted her confidence and convinced her she should continue to pursue an artistic career.
Encouraging excellence right out of art school was one of the reasons the First Art! Competition started in 2003, says Dawn Cain at BMO Financial Group and she’s proud that the competition has managed to pluck artists from obscurity in every region of Canada.
Annie Pootoogook of Cape Dorset had already hit several important benchmarks in her career before she won the $50,000 Sobey Art Award in 2006. She’d been part of several shows at Feheley Fine Arts in Toronto and had a solo show at Toronto’s Power Plant, but the Sobey Award, aimed at artists under 40, helped push her into another echelon of fame. Melanie Medd of Feheley Fine Arts confirms that Pootoogook’s international profile has escalated since winning the award, including an invitation to documenta 12 in Germany and the Basel Art Fair.
Other Sobey finalists like Marcel Dzama, Althea Thauberger and Steven Shearer have also had several international shows, and 2002 winner Brian Jungen, whose career has catapulted with solo shows at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York and another at the Tate in London, recently had a piece sell at auction in Toronto for $150,000.
But recognition works closer to home as well. Regina-based artist Rachelle Viader Knowles was a finalist for the Sobey Award in 2007. Originally from the UK, she is a tenured professor at the University of Regina. Honoured by the accolades inherent in winning such a prestigious placement, Viader Knowles, who has been showing internationally since 1996, can’t help chuckling at being labelled “emerging.”
Nevertheless, her standing in the awards brings welcome attention to her faculty, not only by potentially attracting more students to Regina’s art department, but her Dean now has fodder to use within the university as well. Telling the Dean of Business Administration that an art professor had a solo exhibition at a gallery may not mean much, she says, but big awards can be likened to lists like “The top 40 under 40.”
Etienne Zack, who took home the $25,000 prize in the RBC Painting Competition in 2005, says the art world in Canada is a funny thing. Considered one of the country’s hottest young painters, Zack says an artist can be showing in many places and have a successful career, while no one but critics and collectors know them. He was impressed by the publicity surrounding the RBC Competition (years later, articles still acknowledge the honour) and for that reason, he thinks there should be more awards. “It really puts you on the map in terms of art in Canada,” he says.
He also likes competitions for providing a snapshot of where, for example, painting is “at” each year, but worries that different ones put too much focus on art school as a requirement, or on certain timelines in people’s careers (the RBC Competition requires an artist be in the first five years of a professional career).
Justin Oglivie, a Vancouver-based figurative painter and finalist in the 2007 Kingston Prize in Portraiture questions the value of art competitions in general. He says a big prize tends to draw attention to itself and the winners don’t necessarily reflect the best work, just the politics of the art world. “It’s extremely subjective and dependent on the jury or your connection to the jury,” he says. On the other hand he’s pleased the Kingston Prize exists because, at the very least, it shows that someone cares about figurative art, in what he sees as a conceptual-art-dominated world.
He also thinks that the more emphasis on art and art education that hits mainstream Canada, the better. “As visual artists we have a lot of potential to ignite creative energy in the country,” he says.
Svab, in the meantime, has taken his accolades and moved overseas. He and his wife moved to her native Japan in 2007 with their little girl, leaving his photo-imaging job with the Vancouver Art Gallery. He’s says he’s far from established there, but says the award has helped him get photography work, as well as exhibitions. “Chances are people here have never heard of Emily Carr Institute where I went to school,” he says. “They have little idea about what the photo-imaging department was like at the Vancouver Art Gallery, except from the annual reports I can show. So when they see that I received a national award for my artwork and a couple of newspaper articles where it was written about, they believe more in what I can do.”