Created in 2002, the Sobey Art Award is Canada’s preeminent award for contemporary Canadian art. Selected by a nation-wide jury of curators and academics, this annual prize of $50,000 USD is given to an artist under the age of 40. While the award’s shortlist recognizes several artists’ exceptional talent from across the country, it provides major support towards the winner’s art practice and career.
Originally from Montreal, this year’s winner David Altmejd creates intricate and one of a kind sculptures that often portray animal and human hybrids in subtly seductive positions with open-ended narratives.
“I am interested in making objects that generate energy,” says Altmejd. “That is what I do as a sculptor. This comes from my fascination with living things, and how the energy they contain makes them exist in the universe. I want my sculptures to exist the same way living things exist.”
The award is accompanied by an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax and features the work of the other shortlisted artists from different regions in Canada: Marcel Dzama (The Prairies and the North), Shary Boyle (Ontario), Graeme Patterson (The Atlantic), and Luanne Martineau (West Coast and Yukon).
Altmejd’s featured piece entitled The Settler, is made of a broad spectrum of materials such as mirrors, crystals, fake hair, glitter and jewellery. Out of these objects Altmejd creates a fanciful figure that portrays the energetic qualities of decomposition, transformation and metamorphosis. Though Altmejd doesn’t confine his work to particular themes, one could read his sculptures as having an innate queer eroticism that questions the border between reality and fantasy.
“The Settler is the exploding body of a werewolf, with shards of mirror and light,” he says. “The figure of the werewolf was interesting to me partly because of its reference to transformation. I saw an immense amount of energy associated in the transformation of a human being into an animal… Actually, I don’t think I was nominated for that specific piece, but rather for my work in general. I think that what was in the show was a way of presenting the artists….The Settler is a piece [that] I thought represented very well all the places my work has been going in the past few years.”
Altmejd has had tremendous international success throughout the United States and Europe in past years. As the officially selected Canadian artist for the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007, the Sobey Art Award is not his first major recognition as an influential contemporary artist at home.
“There’s something perfect about the size of Canada for an award like the Sobey Award. It makes the whole experience of participating something nice. I had the chance to meet all the other artists, and hang out with them. I imagine this kind of dynamic wouldn’t happen… in other huge global art world events. … Seen from Halifax [on] the night of the award ceremony, the Canadian art world seemed like a optimistic community. I’ve never felt so little cynicism in an art event. I’m sure it is still there, but you should go to an art event in London…”
Bravo! will be dedicating a special episode of Arts and Minds to the work of David Altmejd. The show airs on Nov 21 at 6pm. The special will also feature extensive coverage of the 2009 Sobey Art Award gala at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and the other shortlisted nominees.