Arts

The winners of the 2018 Governor General’s Visual Arts awards, with the curator and representatives from Canada Council for the Arts. Photo: Ryan Pepper.

Prestigious award honours lifetime of artistic accomplishment, celebrates eight artists

On March 29, the National Gallery of Canada officially opened the 2018 Governor General’s Media and Visual Arts Awards special exhibition, comprising the works of the eight talented winners of this prestigious arts award.

The exhibition runs from now until Aug. 5 at the National Gallery, and offers a chance for visitors to see the best art that Canada has to offer across a range of media.

The Visual and Media Arts Awards honour lifetime achievements in the fine arts, such as ceramics, sculpture, multimedia and audio-visual, painting, and photography. All forms of artistic expression were included this year, from the delicate ceramics of Jack Sures to the video projections of Wyn Geleynse, and the monumental buffalo sculpture of Siksika artist Adrian Stimson.

A piece of projection art by London-based Wyn Geleynse, a pioneer in projection. Photo: Ryan Pepper.

The winners this year are Bruce Eves, Geleynse, Spring Hurlbut, Midi Onodera, Stimson, Sandra Semchuk, curator and gallery director Glenn Atleen, and Sures, who is the Saidye Bronfman Award for fine crafts winner. All the laureates are nominated by a jury of their peers, something that London, Ontario-based artist Geleynse says is quite special.

“You’re not being crowned by bureaucrats. It’s actually your peers who think you’re worthy of it, and I think that’s a really wonderful thing.”

The exhibition is open now at the National Gallery. Photo: Ryan Pepper

While the jury decides the winners, each potential winner must be nominated by someone in the field. In Geleynse’s case, he was co-nominated by Paul Walde, and University of Ottawa professor Andrew Wright, who lived with Geleynse when they were both teachers at Western University in London.

Geleynse pointed out that the Visual Arts Awards are an excellent opportunity for talented artists to be noticed in the country’s major gallery. He said that gallery space in Canada can be limited, and that Canadian galleries don’t always have the funds to put on major exhibitions that can put new talent on the map.

“I think there’s a lack of a sophisticated collector base,” said Geleynse. “Collectors support the galleries that help launch careers, and the institutions, they’re not the best funded things in Canada, so oftentimes their budget for purchasing or producing good exhibition is somewhat limited.”

Ceramic artwork by Jack Sures. Photo: Ryan Pepper.

This year’s exhibition was curated by Rhiannon Vogl, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery. One of the major hurdles with curating an exhibition like this, she said, is that there’s no common theme to build the exhibit around. Instead, she was given a list of eight artists and told to curate the space.

“I see it more like a puzzle, really. I like to work with the physical gallery spaces that I’m given, and really think visually and thematically how their works will go together,” she said. “This way, I’m kind of given basic ingredients and it’s really about being creative with limitations.”

One of the more eye-catching pieces on display takes up the whole front room of the exhibit—Stimson’s “Beyond Redemption,” which features a life-sized buffalo surrounded by buffalo robes held up on stakes. Stimson’s work deals intensely with his Plains Indigenous heritage, and the essential role of the buffalo in the lives of First Nations people.

If any theme could be found, it’s the totality of the artist’s body of work—each part of the exhibit is a mini-retrospective. That also impacted the way Vogl thought about curating the space.

The artwork of Bruce Eves. Photo: Ryan Pepper.

“I think because for this particular exhibit, the theme is really celebrating an artist’s career so far and celebrating a prize, so the thematic of the show is about that celebration and monumentality as opposed to something that is more of a storyline,” Vogl said. “Your thematic is a little but looser, but I get to find and build the show as I go along.”

The Governor General’s Visual and Media Arts Award winners’ exhibition runs from March 29 to Aug. 5. Entrance is included in the National Gallery’s regular price of admission.