2011.10.05 The art is everywhere

Written by David Green.


You must come along this time, my wife told me. You can get a column out of it. Maybe a feature story.

I need some incentive to give up an entire day of work. We’ve been drastically late getting to the printer the last two weeks and I didn’t see how a 13-hour adventure was going to help that situation.

I agreed to go, knowing that it might help with the paper, and also because I really wanted to see the famous ArtPrize event in Grand Rapids, Mich.

ArtPrize presents nearly three weeks of art displayed everywhere in downtown Grand Rapids. Anyone can enter if they pay the $50 fee and arrange for a venue to display their work. The judges who decide how the $475,000 in prize money will be divvied up are the 200,000 people who visit the festival. Just common louts like you and me who don’t know what makes good art; we just know what we like.

There are some juried awards from a panel of experts, but the big money is distributed with the understanding that the winner might not be the one who created the best art. That’s not the purpose of the event.

Instead, organizers believe that art is important and that there’s no better way to prove that than by putting it on display and letting thousands of people interact with it. Look at it, laugh at it, be amazed by it, talk to the artist about it. 

Organizers describe it this way: The prize is not a reward for the most important achievement. It is the world’s largest excuse to get creative and try something new.

We departed Saturday morning and I got to work in the back seat. I was allowed to quietly write news stories on the 150 mile trip and I was told that the hostess in the front seat had even offered to remain silent. I didn’t want that, but it would have been impossible anyway. She gave an impressive, two and a half hour lesson in social intercourse that will not be forgotten.

Our first stop in Grand Rapids was a venue without art. Well, not exactly. Was I extra hungry or was the Nantucket Baking Company’s cherry galette one of the best-tasting items ever to enter my mouth?

Fully sugared up from the bakery, we drove on downtown, parked, and walked through the Amway Grand Plaza hotel where we had our first close-up visit with an ArtPrize entry.

In the lobby stands Christine Mikowski’s life-size paper maché sculpture of a woman holding a bird. Inside the bird is a miniature twirling ballerina. There are leaves in the woman’s hair, spiders crawling on her fingers, wonderful colors of the woods. I liked this creation. It was a wonderful piece of art.

Inside a gallery we encountered Joseph Kearney’s incredibly detailed model of the Andrea Doria ocean liner. Nine feet long!

The Amway’s 29 displays spilled outside where we found the first of many works using recycled stuff. It was Terry Brennan’s assemblage of common objects called “Dumpster Diver.”

Nearby at the DeVos Place convention center—a work of art in itself—we visited the first of the Top 10 entries, based on voting from the first week of the competition.

Mia Tavonatti is a repeat Top-10 artist, appearing this year with a 9x13-foot glass mosaic of the Crucifixion. The big venue of DeVos allows for big pieces, such as Richard Shipps’ 67 foot long cut paper work spread across the end windows on the second level.

We saw a map of the U.S. made out of iron skillets. We passed wooden bears climbing around the Gerald Ford Museum fountain. We saw the huge metal dog and the enormous dreaming praying mantis. There was a field of sunny flowers made from water bottles and a cluster of glass hands mounted on sticks. There were large, iron monkeys hanging from an old bridge. Beaded sculpture, brass sculpture,  enormous dead starlings.

And so it went for six hours and we saw only a fraction of the more than 1,500 entries. It’s art everywhere. The good stuff, the silly stuff, the head-scratching stuff. It’s an amazing event.

I didn’t register to vote and now I’m unable to take part in choosing a winner. Instead, I give my vote to the cherry galette.  A clear winner in my mouth.

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