Karen Tam wins the Giverny Capital award

Quebec visual artist Karen Tam won the 9e Giverny Capital 2021 prize awarded by collector François Rochon, president of the private portfolio management firm Giverny Capital.

Accompanied by a $10,000 grant, this biannual prize aims to highlight and encourage the excellence, originality and creative force of contemporary Quebec art. It rewards the 44-year-old Montreal artist “for her diligent and continuous work”. And especially for the impact that Karen Tam has on the Quebec and Canadian art scene.

The jury for the prize was composed of Marie-Ève ​​Beaupré, curator of the collection at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Louise Déry, director of the Galerie de l’UQAM, Josée Drouin-Brisebois, senior curator of contemporary art at the National Gallery of Canada, Marie-Josée Jean, director of VOX, contemporary image center, and Anne-Marie Saint-Jean Aubre, curator of contemporary art at the Musée d’art de Joliette.

“When you visit a Karen Tam installation, you discover a decor that is both familiar and nevertheless disconcerting,” says Marie-Josée Jean. Not surprising since one of the constants of her work for fifteen years now is the criticism she makes of the appropriation of Chinese cultural references adapted to Western tastes. She reconstructs highly exotic spaces, such as a Chinese restaurant, a karaoke room, an opium den, a curio shop in Chinatown and other places emblematic of her culture, but nevertheless influenced by various cultural crossbreeds. »

“I draw inspiration for this from oriental objects and chinoiserie found in various museums, local collections and on eBay,” says Karen Tam. Using ordinary materials and methods. Ornaments that look like real jade are carved out of soap. The porcelain is made of papier-mâché and the silver objects are made from aluminum trays”. It is this material exploration combined with the relevance and uniqueness of his cultural research and his critical position that convinced the jury to award him the prize.

“Curator and intellectual, Karen Tam, who studied in London – a doctorate at Goldsmiths in 2014 – gave an important lecture there at the British Museum in 2018, on her practice, on China and on the representation of Chinese culture in museums, says Hugues Charbonneau, his gallery owner. Karen is a big thinker. And is very generous. When she went to present her conference, she had taken the catalogs of the artists from the gallery to promote it. If Chloe Lum and Yannick Desranleau exhibited in Scotland afterwards, it’s thanks to her. »

Since 2000, Tam has exhibited and participated in numerous artistic residencies, including at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the He Xiangning Art Museum, China, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. His works are part of museum and corporate collections, such as the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Hydro-Québec Collection, the Royal Bank of Canada Collection and the Microsoft Art Collection.

“His corpus is original and unique,” ​​says François Rochon. And the community has not, until now, recognized it at its fair value. For this criterion, each time, our price has hit the bullseye, since 2007.”

The Giverny Capital prize is indeed the first notable recognition that Karen Tam obtains in Quebec. Previously, she won the Joseph S. Stauffer Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts in 2006. She was a finalist for the Louis-Comtois in 2017, the Prix en art contemporain du Musée national des beaux-arts de Québec, in 2016, and the Sobey Award in 2010 and 2016.

“Karen Tam literally changed the spirit of my gallery, she became its central core,” says Hugues Charbonneau. My gallery wouldn’t be what it is today without her. It was through Karen Tam that I became interested in Moridja Kitenge Banza. It was she who led me to think about the role of identity in artistic creation, the role of interbreeding. Because it’s not the Chinese identity that interests her, it’s the meaning of being an artist of Chinese origin living in North America. His medium is our view of China. »

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