UAAC-AAUC Lifetime Achievement Award
This award is presented to a past or present member of UAAC who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession over the whole of a career either through leadership, creation, education, curatorial projects, service or publications.
2020 UAAC Lifetime Achievement Award: Dr. John O’Brian
The 2020 UAAC Lifetime Achievement Award has been presented to Dr. John O’Brian, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia.
Prolific as both a writer and a curator, O’Brian is best known for Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, one of The New York Times “Notable Books of the Year” in 1986. He has authored or edited another 20 books, including Ruthless Hedonism: The American Reception of Matisse (University of Chicago Press, 1999) and Through Post-Atomic Eyes (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020), along with numerous articles. His most recent book, The Bomb in the Wilderness: Photography and the Nuclear Era in Canada, published by University of British Columbia Press in 2020, is the first substantial examination of Canada’s nuclear footprint through a photographic lens. Highlights of his curatorial career include Strangelove’s Weegee at Presentation House in North Vancouver in 2013, After the Flash at WORK Gallery in London (UK) in 2015, Camera Atomica at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2015, and Bombhead at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2018. The consummate polymath, John is also a poet and an artist. His short film Octozilla, produced with Gregory Coyes, was shown at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2018, and other art projects include Ci elegans, produced with Marina Roy at SFU Galleries in 2017, Sixteen Nuclear Power Stations at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2013, and Multiplication at the Catriona Jeffries Gallery in Vancouver in 1998.
O’Brian has been the recipient of many distinguished awards and recognitions, including the Janet Braide Award for outstanding scholarship in Canadian art history in 1990, a Senior Research Fellowship at the Canadian Centre for the Visual Arts in Ottawa in 1992-93, a Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute Visiting Lectureship in India in 1996-1997, a Killam Research Prize at the University of British Columbia in 2000, a Visiting Research Professorship at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto in 2007, the Brenda & David McLean Chair in Canadian Studies at the University of British Columbia from 2008-2011, and the Thakore Award in Human Rights and Peace Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2011. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada since 2009, O’Brian also holds an honorary doctorate from Trinity College at the University of Toronto, and in 2016 was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame at the University of Toronto.
Anyone who has worked with John O’Brian knows how seriously (and playfully) he takes his role as a leader, advisor and mentor in the field of art history in Canada. From 1989 to 1991, he was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Vancouver Art Gallery, and from 1991 to 1998 a Special Advisor to the board of the National Gallery of Canada. In 2020 he was appointed an External Advisor to the National Gallery. He has also been involved with the Harvard University Art Museum, Polygon Gallery and Belkin Art Gallery. A longstanding supporter of the Universities Art Association of Canada, John co-organized, with Landon Mackenzie and David McWilliam, the 1997 UAAC conference hosted by Emily Carr University and the University of British Columbia. As a professor at the University of British Columbia from 1987-2017, O’Brian taught and mentored a few generations of art historians. He held the Brenda & David McLean Chair in Canadian Studies from 2008 to 2011, and was an Associate of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. John’s former colleagues and students describe him as an open-minded, rigorous, enthusiastic, generous, kind, and patient mentor and teacher who, to quote a recent graduate student, “creates opportunities and connections for his students that go well beyond his role as professor and beyond the academy.”
The Lifetime Achievement Award was inaugurated in 2019 to celebrate a past or present member of UAAC who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession over the whole of a career either through leadership, creation, education, curatorial projects, service or publications. With the recognition that he has made outstanding contributions to each one of these areas, the Board of the Universities Art Association of Canada is delighted and honoured to present John O’Brian with this well-deserved award.
Past recipients of UAAC-AAUC Lifetime Achievement Award