Sunday, September 25, 2011

Return to Wonderland

Those of you who know me, know i'm having a hard time getting on board with ArtPrize this year.

After much over-analyzation I've come to some conclusions; in order to share them with you, I must go back in time.

2009: The First Year of ArtPrize
Obviously when ArtPrize arrived the first year, the city had zero expectations, and spent the first half confused, albeit in a wonderful way. It was like being a child seeing snow for the first time, or Alice stepping into Wonderland. Faces lit up with amazement on every corner.

From toilet races, airplanes filling the sky, men dressed in ballons, and the big red ball popping up all over, everything was suddenly larger than life. They city was buzzing with color, creativity and an overwhelming vibe of imagination. We were Dorothy, and we had woken up in technicolor.

2010: Expectations Rise
Needlesstosay, having gone through this once before and falling in love with the place our city had become, ArtPrize expectations had risen.

But it was obvious what was going on. It was a circus of novelty and spectacle, and a war of scale. Size ruled all. And the crowd was pushier. No more joyful bewilderment, fewer random acts of art—it was a (pushy) race to be seen and to see it all.

2011: Fast Forward to Today
After ArtPrize failed to take me to new heights in 2010, I had a much harder time getting pumped up for a third go around. I was worried the third time around wasn't going to be the charm, but rather that it would cheapen the city.

I don't think it's done that. I think ArtPrize is still a valid social experiment. They've made slight changes to promote equally opportunity, listing Top 25 by neighborhood. And like the previous years, there are plenty of technically strong pieces, you just have to look past the showbiz to find them.

Recycled or repurposed materials seem to be a prominent theme, which isn't shocking. Also not shocking (unfortunately) I'm noticing a lot of contrived art—pieces where the viewer interacts to become part of the art. Because who's not going to vote for themselves or their child? But what I really do enjoy is the art that fits in its environment, that feels natural in its surroundings.

I simply haven't blown away. I haven't had the feeling that I'm that little kid walking into a candy store for the first time. My eyes haven't been widened.

I would like to state, that while in the past 2 years I haven't agreed completely with the Top 25/Top 10, I have been pleased with the ultimate winner. It seems that when the public is given unlimited votes they spread them with little consideration, but when left with one vote with which to declare their love, they use them more wisely.

Also, I know that ArtPrize is meant solely as a way to promote conversation about art. And clearly it is successful at that. I mean, for two weeks it's all this city (I) talks about. This event has been nothing but positive for Grand Rapids. My comments here are purely observations on the metamorphosis of what I've seen personally.

All that said, curiousity remains and I will remain an active participant in Grand Rapids' event of the year.

Here are some photos (and a plea) from this years ArtPrize:
Vote for me! This piece is showing at "The Spot" on Pearl in the Federal Square Building. I do not know this artist personally, but I do know that this piece, which measures 26 feet long and is done in all pen and ink, is spectacular. Unfortunately due to the location it isn't getting the foot traffic that the art in the GRAM does and therefore is up for a seriously fight for votes. Be sure to see this piece before Wednesday and get your votes in. It's crazy good!


  1. I agree with you that there has been an air of disillusionment permeating the mood of ArtPrize in years 2 and 3. I hope that this isn't due to the fact that the art is getting worse, but more because our expectations as an audience and a city are evolving. We saw it once, and grew to understand what defined good, bad, and ugly art. So the next year, we wanted more of the good and less of the bad/ugly. But the thousands of artists couldn't keep up, so when we received the same caliber art in year 2 that we'd seen in year 1, it didn't fly any more. I also agree with your observation that the "bigger is better" philosophy seemed to dominate last year -- hell, even the winner was gigantic. That idea has really got to go. Hopefully if ArtPrize continues in the future, we'll see the quality of the art improve, and not just cheapen or turn to spectacle. I hope the planners can add some measures to cope with this problem. I love that ArtPrize provides such an accessible opportunity to educate people about art...I just hope it's teaching them the right lessons.

  2. Yes the fact that the Ripley's BION guy had a field day snatching up art at ArtPrize last year speaks volumes for the type of work that was on display. Something may be cool/fun/a good idea, but is it worthy of top honors in an art competition?

  3. I'm also feeling disillusioned this year. I've decided that the problem is that annually is too often. It's so huge and takes over the city to such a large degree that every 5 years or even every other year would give us all (artists and viewers and residents) time to breathe.