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Toronto artist Shary Boyle wins the 2009 Iskowitz Prize at the AGO

Commemorative book celebrating prize’s first twenty years to launch in December

(TORONTO: October 27, 2009) Shary Boyle, one of the decade’s most buzzed-about Canadian artists, is the winner of the 2009 Gershon Iskowitz Prize at the AGO for her outstanding contribution to visual arts in Canada. The $25,000 Prize will be awarded to Boyle at a reception on December 1, 2009 and includes an exhibition of her work at the AGO in 2010.

Boyle, who moves fluidly between drawing, painting, sculpture and performance, first rose to prominence in the late 1990s by creating hand-animated projections she describes as “live-drawing projected light shows.” These projections have since shared stages with musicians Feist, Peaches, Jens Lekman, Es and Christine Fellows. Her work has been exhibited internationally and documented in a number of publications, including Otherworldly Uprising (Conundrum Press, 2008). Her fantastical and disturbing porcelain figurines, often incorporating mythological stories and fables, have been among the most acclaimed Canadian works of the twenty-first century.

“Not only is her work singularly bold and original,” says David Moos, the AGO’s curator of contemporary art, “but Shary Boyle is representative of a generation of Canadian artists who started showing in the underground galleries along West Queen West in the 1990s and are now starting to achieve international prominence. Shary has really been leading the pack, and we wanted to celebrate her unique contribution to Canadian art and acknowledge the doors she’s opening for a younger generation of Canadian artists.”

This year’s jury consisted of Iskowitz Foundation board members David Moos and Jay Smith, along with 1998 Iskowitz Prize recipient Shirley Wiitasalo and Daniel Adler, assistant professor of visual arts at York University. Adler says that the jury chose Boyle for her “impressive commitment to working in multiple media, including ceramics and drawing, and to truly imaginative subject matter. Her delicate and detailed rendering of seductive surfaces is cunningly balanced with thematic material that is provocative, often explicitly sexual, and subversively comic in tone.”

This is a big year for the Iskowitz Prize, established in 1985 by painter Gershon Iskowitz to raise the profile of visual arts in Canada. The Gershon Iskowitz Prize: 1986 – 2006, a commemorative volume celebrating the first twenty years of the Iskowitz Prize, will be released on December 1. With an introductory essay by Roald Nasgaard, the 112-page book will spotlight the first twenty-one artists to win the prestigious Prize, including Gathie Falk, Betty Goodwin, Rodney Graham, Vera Frenkel and General Idea. Designed by Barr Gilmore, Barr Gilmore Art + Design with Breanne Woods, and edited by Laurel MacMillan. A focus piece on each artist has been written by a member of the jury who chose him or her, including Christina Ritchie, Loretta Yarlow, Mark Mayer and Peggy Gale. The Gershon Iskowitz Prize: 1986 – 2006 will retail for $40, and will be available for purchase at shopAGO.

Additionally, two past winners of the Iskowitz Prize at the AGO are presenting exhibitions at the Gallery. The aptly titled Three Films by Mark Lewis, who won the Prize in 2007, is currently on display in the Vivian & David Campbell Centre for Contemporary Art as an element of the Beautiful Fictions exhibition. An as-yet-untitled exhibition by Françoise Sullivan, recipient of the 2008 Prize, will open at the AGO in February 2010.


Shary Boyle was born in Scarborough, Ontario, in 1972. The only artist in a suburban, working-class family, Boyle mined her early memories of female “otherness” to imagine fantastical alternatives to the limitations of convention. Her work has been acquired by the National Gallery of Canada and the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, among others. In 2008, the Toronto-based Boyle was commissioned by the AGO to respond to the Gallery’s collection of Baroque bronzes by Giovanni Battista Foggini. The resulting two sculptures have met with universal acclaim from the artistic and critical communities and are now a part of the AGO’s permanent collection — along with a 2006 acquisition, Untitled (pregnant figure), also a porcelain sculpture.


In 2007 the AGO and the Iskowitz Foundation joined forces to raise awareness of the visual arts in Canada with the renaming of the annual award established twenty years ago by Canadian painter Gershon Iskowitz (1921–1988). Iskowitz recognized the importance of grants to the development of artists and acknowledged that a grant from the Canada Council in 1967 enabled him to formalize his distinctive style. The AGO is home to the artist’s archives, which include early works on paper, sketchbooks and memorabilia, and holds twenty-nine paintings by Iskowitz (spanning the period from 1948 to 1987) in its permanent collection.


With a permanent collection of more than 79,000 works of art, the Art Gallery of Ontario is among the most distinguished art museums in North America. In 2008 a stunning new design by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry opened its doors to the public amid international acclaim. Highlights include Galleria Italia, a gleaming showcase made of wood and glass running the length of two football fields along the Gallery’s façade; and the feature staircase, spiralling up through the roof of Walker Court and into the new Contemporary galleries above. From the extensive Group of Seven collection to the brand new African Art gallery; from David Altmejd's monumental installation The Index to Peter Paul Rubens's masterpiece The Massacre of The Innocents, a highlight of the acclaimed Thomson Collection, there is truly something for everyone at the AGO.


For media information or visuals, please call:

Sean O’Neill, 416-979-6660 ext. 403,

Antonietta Mirabelli, 416-979-6660 ext. 454,

For media information regarding the Gershon Iskowitz Foundation, please call:

Nancy Hushion, 416 351 0216,

The Art Gallery of Ontario is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Culture. Additional operating support is received from the Volunteers of the AGO, the City of Toronto, the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Canada Council for the Arts.

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