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A $50,000 prize, to be awarded in November
at the National Gallery of Canada, is at stake
for the shortlisted under-40 artists. James Adams takes a closer look

The Nova Scotia-based Sobey Art Foundation and the National Gallery of Canada announced Wednesday the five nominees for the 2016 Sobey Art Award. The nominees – three men and two women representing five regions of Canada – are vying for a first prize of $50,000, to be awarded in November in Ottawa at the NGC.

Inaugurated in 2001, the juried prize is given yearly to a contemporary Canadian artist, at the age of 40 or under, whose work has been exhibited in a public or commercial gallery, and who first landed on a long list of 25 nominees announced in April.

As ever, the 2016 roster of finalists mixes the familiar and the new. Nicolaus Schafhausen, artistic director of Kunsthalle Vienna and one of seven Sobey 2016 jurors, notes in a statement: "These artists link the questioning of their own artistic production with a reflection of social contexts. The true challenge that artists face today, given the multiplicity and complexity of art production in the digital age, is how to be different, not for the sake of difference itself, but to be pertinent."

Schafhausen's involvement in this year's prize is part of a larger plan, orchestrated by the NGC, to give the Sobey award greater international heft and prominence across Canada.

While the winner takes home $50,000, each runner-up will receive $10,000 and each of the 20 longlisted artists will be awarded $500. The NGC's exhibition of works by each of the five finalists opens Oct. 6 and runs through Feb. 5, 2017.

Charles Stankievech

Johan Hallberg-Campbell for Wondereur

Likely the best-known nominee is Alberta-born Stankievech, 38, previously of Dawson City, now based in Toronto. He's an award-winning multidisciplinary artist whose sculptures, sound pieces, installations and films "critically examine the history, specificity and geopolitics of space." His work was shown at the 10th Biennale of Architecture in Venice and at the 2012-13 Oh, Canada survey at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. (He was also on the Sobey shortlist in 2011.)

Charles Stankievech Distant Early Warning Project, 2009.

Distant Early Warning Project, 2009.

Charles Stankievech

Monument as Ruin (2011-2014), Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University.

Monument as Ruin (2011-2014), Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University.

Charles Stankievech

Brenda Draney

Courtesy of the artist

Another nominee with some profile is Edmonton's Draney, 40. She's a painter, educated at the University of Alberta and the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, who won the annual RBC Canadian Painting Competition in 2009 and was named to the Sobey long list in 2013.

Tent (2013), Walter Phillips Gallery, The Banff Centre.

Tent (2013), Walter Phillips Gallery, The Banff Centre.

Sarah Fuller

Night Sky (for Sandi), 2012 oil on canvas.

Night Sky (for Sandi), 2012 oil on canvas.

Trident Photography

Jeremy Shaw

Jenifer Osborne

Also achieving finalist status is another former Sobey long-lister (in 2015), 39-year-old Shaw of Vancouver and Berlin. Shaw, who's had shows at the Museum of Modern Art PS1 and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, works in a variety of media, including music video and ethnographic film, "to explore altered states and the cultural and scientific practices that aspire to map transcendental experience," according to a statement from Sobey organizers.

Quickeners (2014), film still.

Quickeners (2014), film still.

Jeremy Shaw

Variation FQ, 2013, film still.

Variation FQ, 2013, film still.

Jeremy Shaw

Hajra Waheed

Nick Bostick

One newcomer to the Sobey is Calgary-born, Montreal-based Waheed, 36. Formerly a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she's a multidisciplinarian who works in installation, collage, video and sound. Waheed has exhibited internationally, including at Frieze London and the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Britain.

The Cyphers 1-18 (2016) BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

The Cyphers 1-18 (2016) BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

Colin Davison

Our Naufrage 1–10, 2014. Courtesy of the artist

Our Naufrage 1–10, 2014. Courtesy of the artist

Vipul Sangoi

William Robinson

Meghan Tansey Whitton

Haligonian Robinson, 36, is the final newcomer to the Sobey finals. His is a protean practice, encompassing site-specific installation, video, performance, paper matter and musical composition.

Brutalist Song I, 2014 mixed media installation. Installation view at Confederation Centre Art Gallery.

Brutalist Song I, 2014 mixed media installation. Installation view at Confederation Centre Art Gallery.

Adrienna Metzag

Young Prayer (2011), collection of the artist.

Young Prayer (2011), collection of the artist.

Jeff Bierk