The Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts is the ne plus ultra of honors in Canadian art. Some 2,000 of the country's cultural elite attend the annual awards ceremony, a black-tie affair held at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario. But last year, organizers faced a dilemma: Performance artist Istvan Kantor, due to receive the award, was officially banned from entering the National Gallery.
The sticky situation stemmed from a 1991 "intervention" in which Kantor threw vials of his own blood on a wall during a Marcel Duchamp exhibition, as a "Gift" to the institution's permanent collection, which earned him a restraining order. Finally a somewhat comic compromise was reached -- Kantor would be allowed back into the National Gallery for one day only, to pick up the award. A phalanx of five guards was assigned to the artist -- who followed him everywhere.
But there were no shenanigans when Kantor stepped up to the podium -- instead, Kantor smiled, sang an old Hungarian folk song, then quietly sat down again. In the circumstances, his restraint was perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening for when Kantor returned to the gallery the following day, intent on taking pictures of his work in the exhibition he was, once again, persona non grata.