Since their inception in 2000 the Governor-General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts have earned an enviable reputation for the astuteness and eclecticism of their choices. The 14th annual prizes, handed out Tuesday morning at a ceremony in Montreal organized by the Canada Council for the Arts, were no exception: seven laureates – four males, three females – working in an array of disciplines from pretty much every part of the country, each receiving $25,000 in recognition of a lifetime of artistic excellence.
Curator/critic/editor/organizer Chantal Pontbriand, 62, and painter/sculptor Marcel Barbeau, 88, were the honorees from Quebec -- Pontbriand recognized, in part, for co-founding the seminal Canadian contemporary art magazine Parachute (1975-2007) and her 2010 appointment as head of exhibition research and development at London’s Tate Modern, Barbeau for being among the first non-figurative painters in Canada and one of the 16 original signatories of the 1948 Refus global manifesto.
Ontario-born Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore, now living in Winnipeg after a lengthy residence in Vancouver, was recognized for “advancing the discussion of political identity in Canadian art” through her efforts to find what she calls “beauty in difficult places.” Belmore, 53, the first Canadian native woman to represent Canada at the Venice Biennale (in 2005), works in a variety of idioms – installation, photography, performance, sculpture, video -- often to provocative effect.
Included each year among the G-G laureates is the winner of Saidye Bronman Award for excellence in fine crafts. For the second consecutive year it’s gone to a Calgarian associated with the Alberta College of Art and Design, veteran ceramicist Greg Payce, 57. Last year’s winner was his ACAD colleague and goldsmith Charles Lewton-Brain.
Kingston-born Gordon Monahan, 56, was recognized for his decades-spanning achievements as a sound artist, composer and, more recently, as the co-founder of the annual Electric Eclectics Festival, held since 2007 on his Meaford, Ont. farm. Another Ontarian, 68-year-old Torontonian Colette Whiten, received her award for her achievements in sculpture, embroidery and installation art, including the gateway arch she co-created for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics village.
Independent Nova Scotia director-screenwriter William D. MacGillivray, 67, was honoured for a 40-year career making documentary and feature films, including such acclaimed works as Life Classes (1987) and The Man of a Thousand Songs, a 2011 documentary about the Newfoundland singer-songwriter Ron Hynes. His latest feature, Hard Drive, shot last year in Halifax with a cast including Megan Follows and Douglas Smith (Big Love), is to be released later this year.
All seven laureates will be honoured Mar. 20 at a reception in Rideau Hall, Ottawa, hosted by Governor-General David Johnston. The National Gallery of Canada is presenting an exhibition of the winners’ works Mar. 22 through June 23. A survey of MacGillivray’s will run there throughout April.