A Canadian artist living in Brooklyn has prevailed over three other finalists from Mexico, the United States and Japan to take the 2013 Aimia/AGO Photography Prize, at $50,000 one of Canada's biggest art awards with an international reach.
Kelowna-born Erin Shirreff, 38, was named the prize-winner Thursday evening at a ceremony in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The Aimia/AGO, previously known as the Grange Prize, is believed to be the only major international art honour selected by public vote. This year, more than 25,000 votes, a prize record, were cast online or at the AGO where works by Shirreff and her fellow finalists – LaToya Ruby Frazier, Edgardo Aragon and Chino Otsuka – have been displayed since August. The four were chosen by a three-member jury, headed by former AGO curatorial director Elizabeth Smith, from a long list of 14. Each runner-up receives $5,000.
Shirreff's contribution to the AGO exhibition consists of two hypnotic long-duration videos, Moon, from 2010, and Lake, from 2012. Each is constructed from hundreds of photographs of, in the first instance, the moon in various phases of luminosity, in the second, of a full-colour image of an Okanagan Valley lake originally published in a tourist magazine or brochure from the early 1980s. Both works extend and explore the act of looking while collapsing time and place in their fluctuations between natural and artificial effects, motion and stillness.
Shirreff, who has a BFA from the University of Victoria and an MFA from Yale, has had several prominent solo exhibitions and her work is now in the permanent collections of the Centre Pompidou, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Guggenheim and Metropolitan museums in New York. Her first video work, 2006's Sculpture Park (Tony Smith), looked like sculptures by the famous U.S. minimalist slowly being revealed by falling snow when, in fact, it was a montage of photographs of table-top-sized cardboard maquettes dusted with flecks of Styrofoam. Five years later, when Shirreff received a commission to erect a sculpture in a Brooklyn park, she used Smith's 1968 work, Amarylis, as a model.
The Aimia/AGO Prize, honouring excellence in contemporary photography, started in 2008 as the Grange Prize, its name taken from the 19th-century Georgian manor house, just south of the AGO, that served as the first home of the Art Museum of Toronto beginning in 1910. The annual prize always has had an international cast but previously the finalists were split between two photographers from Canada and two from a partner country. (Previous partner nations have been China, Mexico, India, the U.S. and the U.K.) For 2013 the partner concept was ditched in favour of letting an eight-person panel pick a long list of artists from around the world – this was done by mid-July – but on the understanding that from this, one of the four finalists would be Canadian.
The Aimia/AGO Photography Prize 2013 Exhibition continues at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto through Jan. 5.