2019 Sobey Art Award Gala, Edmonton
Administered annually since 2002, the Sobey Art Award stands as Canada’s richest prize for contemporary artists aged less than 40. Now given jointly by the Sobey Art Foundation and the National Gallery of Canada, the happening alternates each year between the nation’s capital and another Canadian city. This year, the award headed the farthest west the prize has gone, to the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton. There, the work of the five shortlisted artists who hail from across Canada is being presented in a group exhibition through Jan. 5, 2020. The gallery also served as the spot for the annual gala, where the recipient of the coveted $100,000 prize was announced.
On the eve of Nov. 15, the main lobby of the Randall Stout designed gallery was wall to wall with art advocates from near and far, all of whom were gathered to hear the announcement of this year’s winner. Artist and filmmaker Stephanie Comilang, who splits time between Toronto and Berlin, was the recipient of the award. “Representation is everything,” she said in her remarks, “and it really matters who is seen. So I guess I’m making art for a younger me who is kind of looking for someone that looks like themselves.” Comilang’s 2016 work Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso (Come to Me, Paradise) – an affecting 25-minute, three-channel video projected onto walls on the gallery’s third floor – explores the process of dispersion, focusing specifically on the experiences of migrant Filipina caregivers in Hong Kong. Visitors who enter the space are asked to take off their shoes, with many choosing to sit on the floor, which, alongside the lower third of the gallery’s walls, the artist has covered in cardboard boxes, a nod to the temporary shelters these women construct. In an adjacent gallery, Comilang’s work Yesterday in the Years 1886 & 2017 is also on display and in neighbouring spaces, the work of the other four finalists, Nicolas Grenier, who represented Quebec, Kablusiak, the Prairies and North, Anne Low, the West Coast and Yukon and D’Arcy Wilson, representing Atlantic Canada, who each received $25,000, is also on offer.
Out too in Edmonton: Calgary gallerists Viviane Mehr and Shannon Norberg; member of the National Gallery board of trustees Paul Baay and his wife, Gillian, of Calgary; CEO of Contemporary Calgary, David Leinster; 2018 Sobey Art Award Winner Kapwani Kiwanga; Border Crossings magazine editor-in-chief Meeka Walsh and professor and art critic Robert Enright; executive director and chief curator of the Art Gallery of Alberta Catherine Crowston; National Gallery of Canada’s senior curator of contemporary art, Josée Drouin-Brisebois, who chaired the 2019 Sobey Art Award Jury; National Gallery of Canada’s director and CEO Sasha Suda; and of course, Rob Sobey, chair of the Sobey Art Foundation.