Sobey Art Award reveals 2021 short list and National Gallery exhibition dates

Imagine it: by the fall, people could be inside an actual museum viewing the work of this year’s Sobey Art Award finalists.

The competition is considered to be one of Canada’s top honours in contemporary art, with past winners including Annie Pootoogook (2006), Kapwani Kiwanga (2018) and Stephanie Comilang (2019). And the short list for the 2021 prize was announced earlier today by the Sobey Art Foundation and the National Gallery of Canada, the latter of which will open an exhibition in October featuring work by nominees.

The artists represent five regions across the country. They are:

Rémi Belliveau. Passe-Pierre (detail), 2017. Public intervention, costume, kiosk, T-shirts and salted herbs. (© Rémi Belliveau)

Lorna Bauer. The Hand of Mee and the Moonflower, 2018. Five hand blown seagreen glass vessels in stainless steel butcher gloves, cast glass, slumped glass, various quartz crystal balls on plaster base. 142 × 122 × 25.5 cm. Installation view of The Hand of Mee at Franz Kaka, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Nicolas Robert. (Photo credit: Jimmy Limit/© Lorna Bauer)

Rajni Perera. Revenge 3, 2019. Brass and polymer clay. 35.56 × 25.40 × 12.70 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Patel Brown. (© Rajni Perera)

Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory. Film still from Silaup Putunga, 2018. Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, purchased with funds from the Joan Chalmers Inuit Art Fund, 2019. (© Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory and Jamie Griffiths)

Gabi Dao (West Coast and Yukon)

Gabi Dao. Excerpts from the Domestic Cinema Ch.2, 2019. Video still, HD video and stereo sound, 00:13:08. Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery. (© Gabi Dao)

COVID-19 restrictions halted plans for a similar short-list exhibition last year. Instead, organizers redirected funds toward the prize purse, giving $25,000 to every artist on the 25-person long list — a pandemic pivot that inspired further developments for the 2021 edition.

This year, the total amount of award money will increase from $240,000 to $400,000, with $100,000 offered as the top prize. Artists on the short list receive $25,000 each. Long list nominees were awarded $10,000 — $8,000 more than pre-pandemic. Another notable tweak: for the first time in its 20-year history, the privately funded award opened nominations to all ages, abandoning its previous focus on artists under 40.

When these changes were revealed in February, Dr. Sasha Suda, director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada and Chair of the Sobey Art Award Jury, spoke to how COVID-19 prompted the prize to evolve. Of particular concern: lockdown’s impact on artists’ finances. “It’s been a very hard time for artists across the country,” Suda said in an official announcement. “The continuing pandemic has been a huge challenge, and we want Canadian artists to know we are listening.”

The 2021 Sobey Art Award is decided by an eight-person jury of Canadian and international curators. The winner will be announced in November. 

“Throughout this challenging year, the Sobey Art Award has helped sustain my optimism for the art form,” Suda said in a statement announcing the short list. “I’m ever thankful to the jury and to the Sobey Art Foundation for its continued commitment to the visual arts in Canada. Most of all, what an extraordinary privilege to champion these brave emerging artistic voices. I can’t wait to welcome the public to the Sobey Art Award exhibition at the National Gallery in the fall — and to meeting these artists personally at the award ceremony hosted at the gallery.”  

Barring further restrictions, that exhibition at the National Gallery in Ottawa is scheduled to run to Oct. 8–Feb. 20, 2022.