Canada’s Inugural $10,000 Emerging Curator Award Celebrates Jon Davies

Jon Davies doesn’t fit the profile of an “emerging” curator. He’s been presenting international talent like Ryan Trecartin, Wu Tsang, and Andy Warhol in challenging and popular exhibitions for the Power Plant, Oakville Galleries, TPW, and Pleasure Dome, among others, for nearly a decade, all the while maintaining a vigorous writing practice. But a formal laurel recently arrived to confirm his status.

The inaugural Hnatyshyn Foundation and TD Bank Group’s $10,000 award for Emerging Curator of Contemporary Canadian Art was presented to Davies at the Power Plant on February 19th (where Davies was assistant curator from 2008-2012). The award was nominated by Oakville Galleries‘s (where Davies is currently associate curator) director Matthew Hyland (and supported by UK curator Helena Reckitt, former curator of the Power Plant).

“When I read about the ideal applicant they were looking for I thought ‘I feel like I have a chance at that’,” Davies laughed, adding that he “just went for it.”

Regarding the award’s implications for his forthcoming work, Davies said, “I intend to use it to travel; I’ve been meaning to go to Australia for a number of years and until now I haven’t been able to afford to. I’d like to visit places further afield to see what artists are working on.”

Davies is currently curating an exhibition featuring a collaborative project between recent Venice representative Shary Boyle and popular Canadian artist Emily Vey Duke for Oakville Galleries. “It’s called ‘The Illuminations Project’,” Davies explained. “They worked on it between 2004 and 2010, and they’ve shown some pieces before but not the entire project.” He’s also curating an exhibition of Warhol for the TIFF Bell Lightbox, to be exhibited in 2015.

“A lot of curators in my generation are doing interesting work in really different contexts,” Davies reflects. “I feel like I have a unique background in coming from film and video and time-based studies, and thinking about how that plays into exhibitions in the gallery space. I value having an interdisciplinary educational background that wasn’t exactly focused on contemporary art and curatorial studies,” he says. “I feel like I’ve been lucky, and embraced by the art community in Toronto. I’ve blessedly had a seamless transition from my master’s degree to working — one that I think is really hard to have happen now, the field has become much more precarious these five years later.”

Following a recent presentation of LA-based performer and filmmaker Wu Tsang’s work at TPW Gallery, Davies spoke to us about curating queer practices last fall. He said, “I don’t think there is any shame in artists’ or curators’ practices orienting themselves around those points. These histories are so vast and complex, constantly expanding, being revisited and revised. They are at the center, not the periphery. As a political and cultural project, I’m interested in setting new defaults for how we think of ourselves and the world, even if just as a thought experiment.” When he spoke with us again more recently, Davies acknowledged that queer practice remains a focus, but not an agenda.

“I’m definitely interested in queer curating as a political act, but at the same time I feel like I am just following my interests and trying to forge a very subjective path,” he said, “and reflect my passion in the projects I produce.”

Davies was chosen by a jury including Jean-François Bélisle (Arsenal Gallery), Paul Butler (artist and contemporary art curator at the Winnipeg Art Gallery), Reesa Greenberg (art historian and museum consultant, Ottawa), and Pamela Meredith (senior curator, TD Bank Group, Toronto).

The Hnatyshyn Foundation will issue its established awards in the fall of 2014.

— Sky Goodden, ARTINFO Canada