Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Update from Western Michigan Grand Rapids ArtPrize 2015

A lot has changed in Grand Rapids since we moved out east in 1994. And one of the most pronounced changes, aside from the incredible amount of redevelopment downtown, has been the city-wide embrace of art.

Certainly a number of locations downtown have seen the addition of sculptures over the past decade or so (some of those are also reproduced below). But this broad embrace of artistic expression, really almost an obsession, is the result of (or produced by) "Artprize." Now in it’s seventh year, many of the entries for Artprize are, for want of a better term, "new" art, time-based, transient, ephemeral, performance, installation art. Still, an open art exhibition of more than 1,500 works of art in a variety of categories, scattered over 162 venues in the city for two weeks, with $500,00 in prize money at stake, makes this a mind-boggling event.

Yet what seems most important here is not just the works of art themselves or the cultural snobs who are eager to tell us what is good art.

What is important, the one fundamental truth I learned during this exhibition is  that Artprize fosters and indeed promotes conversation about art. That, to me, is what this event is really all about. People come to Artprize to see and to talk about art. To stroll about as we did recently and listen to the casual conversations as you walk past a piece of sculpture in front of the Ford Museum or a painting in Devos Place, people talking about art, is quite simply amazing.

So, having said that, last Wednesday morning was beautiful. . .

Finding parking in downtown Grand Rapids, even in the middle of day in the middle of the week, was a bit of a challenge — the city was thronged with people wanting to experience this incredible phenomenon of art. But we managed to snag a spot at a Burger King ($5 for the day) lot just a couple of blocks from the Ford Museum on the west side of the river. We spent the next couple of hours strolling from one major venue to another, developing a wide range of impressions about both the art and the venues themselves: the Ford Museum and Devos Place were incredible, the Art Museum barren and lame.

upstream of the Grand River

the Public Museum on the far left with the Ford Museum just beyond to the left of the trees at the first bridge

still looking upstream with Devos Place on the right

the Blue Bridge -- formerly the Grand Rapids & Indiana RR Bridge, now pedestrian only

"The Great Furniture Strike of 1911" by Robert Chenlo in Ah-Nab-Awen Park in front of the Ford Museum

Ford Museum hosted quite a selection of major pieces of art

"Succulent Chicken" by Monica Walker

"Men of the 14th" by Gary Arens

"Reach and Splash" by Andy Sacksteder

"Unbridled" by Bill Secunda

"Balancing Act" by Calvin Babich

"The Desecration of Adam: from beauty to tragedy" by Dean Kugler

"Gerald R. Ford" by J. Brent Gill
From the Ford Museum we walked across the Gillett pedestrian bridge -- host to several art installations.

crossing the Bridge to the east side of the river

"Curated Love" by Alaina Clarke - 

"The Camper" by Jack O'Hearn

back on the east side of the river, just outside of Devos Place: "Motor City" by Douglas Gruizenga
"The Curiosity of Privacy" by anna Donahue, outside the Amway Grand Hotel. . . 

. . .  and inside the original Pantlind Hotel lobby (now Amway Grand: "The Heart" by Deanne Nixon
From the Amway we walked across the street heading toward the Art Museum, passing Arthur Vandenberg outside of MacKay Towers on the way.

"Arthur Vandenberg" by Toby Mendez

inside the Art Museum
From the new art museum we strolled over to the old one, now part of Kendall College of Art and Design. Inside we found one of the most intriguing works of Artprize on display: Julie Green's "The Last Supper." She painted images of death row prisoner's last meal requests before execution in cobalt blue onto second-hand ceramic plates. Quite touching and certainly poignant, with the occasional touch of whimsy: one prisoner requested Dom Perignon and the simple notation was "did not get it."

Back outside in the light we walked over to Vandenberg (also known as Calder) Plaza on Ottawa Street.  Alexander Calder's "La Grande Vitesse," an enormous hunk of steel painted red  has dominated the plaza since 1969 and continues to do so.  For Artprize a number of other works have attempted to steal some of the statue's thunder
"Port of Entry" by Munoz & Co.

"I used to be an octopus" by Lou Rodgriques

"Mr. Jim's Fantabulous Art-Making Machine"

Leaving the plaza we walked across the street to Devos Place. Notwithstanding a couple of conferences then underway on the lower level, the upper gallery was jam-packed with (mostly 2-d) works of art.
"American Graffii Revisited: Graffiti Train" by Jennifer O'Meara (yes, Graffiti with 1 tee)

From Devos Place we walked south to the Blue Bridge, crossed over and strolled around the Grand Rapids Public Museum before heading back to the car.

The Blue Bridge

"White Forest project" by Oriano Galloni

"What lifts you" by Kelsey Montague

We returned downtown on Saturday morning, mainly to get our new library cards but thought we'd check out the Women’s City Club venue. Along the way we passed this wondrous birdhouse city:

"Dream Birdhouses" by Volodymyr Kindratyshyn

entrance to the Women's City Club -- the old Sweet family home

table designed and built by David Tuck

It was a stunningly gorgeous Sunday afternoon when we drove to the Rumsey Street Site Lab Artprize venue and project. Located in an economically depressed part of the city, the Site Lab (spelled “SiTE: Lab” - go figure) is a “site specific” series of installations in a neighborhood now owned by Habitat for Humanity and scheduled for demolition; the one venue where I had the most mixed of feelings.

An old church, rectory and nunnery along with several nearby houses in various stages of decay and ruin have been turned into places of art and in at least one case the building became the work itself. It was also home to one of the two grand prize winners (juried choice), a house painted pink with red interior and women occasionally swinging in and out of windows. I bet Michelangelo or Caravaggio wished THEY had thought of that idea; would've saved them plenty of heartache.

Oh, and for this particular  piece of art, which will soon be gone, a cool two hundred grand in prize money. Just think: what if the ceiling to the sistine Chapel was painted to last only a year or two. . . ?

What is art?

"Higher Ground" by Kate Gilmore, grand prize winner, juried

three buildings along Rumsey Street, part of the Site Lab project

"Undocumented histories" by Many Cano Villalobos, inside the old auto body shop?

in another home is "Oculus" by Daniel Rothbart

a backyard garage has been turned into the exhibition space for a number of smaller pieces

in another home is "Disembodied woman" by Jessica Bonenfant Coogan

Site Lab office --  photos on the walls of the original structures, apparently

"Geometric Flood" by Rivas and Rivas

Site Lab office and archives
The feelings of unease about this particular part of the event hangs with me even today. Thinking of the suffering that once inhabited these homes as well as the happiness has been nearly completely forgotten it would seem. True, much of the focus of this project has to do with the plight of migrants to Grand Rapids -- one exhibit nearly lost in the shuffle focused on the Dutch emigre community that once lived on this block.

But there's more to the disquiet I felt: painting a house and then calling it art because you ask several performers to swing in and out for an hour or so at a stretch, deriving monetary gain from a community still at risk and gravely so is a bit disturbing. And of course the transient nature of it all.

Where is art heading next, I wonder?

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