As I got out of my car on a gray Saturday on ArtPrize’s last weekend, the streets of downtown Grand Rapids were buzzing with commercialism. What should have been a showcase for amateur art that advanced the debate on culture and society, ended up showing itself as a way to maximize profits for local businesses. And while this support for local businesses in an era of needed revenue was important, it shouldn’t have hurt the art itself.
The whole event was a treasure hunt. While you knew where the works of art were with a simple “ArtPrize Venue” tag on the outside of buildings, you didn’t know what you were going to get. Some places offered entire storefronts reminiscent of downtown art galleries, while others had between one and five works of art. It was clear that the places that offered the least art were more geared towards attracting people to their own business.
And while I know it seems to be tough on ArtPrize, I want people to understand that there were some moments that I really enjoyed. While the look of a scavenger hunt style art showcase was not my favorite viewing experience, it did offer some nice surprises. From a gallery-style display case that loops around a dining room where you can see a chef preparing a meal and a waitress filling a cup with diet cola, to a milestone in our nation’s monstrous history, ArtPrize wasn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be.
One of the best experiences I have had at ArtPrize was walking around the local restaurant and nightclub, The BOB, and admiring meaningful artwork. This place has become a popular landing spot for ArtPrize consumers due to its open-air centerpiece: a 10-foot gorilla sculpture, sitting next to and protecting its secret treasure chest, watching people like s ‘he would say to them,’ I’m the king of this shit. Now I’ll touch on this sculpture later when I touch on the negatives of ArtPrize, but what I think this piece does cleverly is bring people to the facility to see the actual art on display. .
As you walk in, one of the first things you encounter is an American flag-themed piece that puts the menacing face of a spirit at the center of the artwork. You are asked to move around by standing in front of the room so that everything moves as you move. One of the most interesting aspects of this piece is that when you kneel down in front of the spirit, the straight-lipped face turns into an evil smile that looks like a message from America looking down on its people as it establishes its power.
Now, I’m not an art critic, so I’m not going to ramble on what metaphors it may or may not represent, but I will say that its effect left a big impression on me, which art should do.
As you continue to walk around and gaze at the works of art hanging on the walls or displayed on tables, and in one case, on a revolving platform, you hear the artists talking about their work.
You hear a husband and father of a child describe how he used the measurements and characteristics of his wife’s body and his daughter’s personality to assemble and create a carved wooden statue of an African warrior.
You hear an artist talk about a canvas made entirely of tree bark and how the porcupine on the outer region of the canvas was the most difficult to make due to the many layers of shaved bark it had to. put together for her boyfriend to actually feel like her physical self.
Hearing artists talk about their work added another element that I didn’t expect. You hear the passion and love they put into what they create and you can’t help but smile. This aspect of ArtPrize where artists physically stand next to their work, offering feedback on how they created what they did, is one of the best because you don’t just learn the process. of art, but you also learn from the visionaries who carefully craft their works of art.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, one of ArtPrize’s iconic attractions this year seemed to be the gorilla statue outside of The BOB, I say attraction because that is what it is. It looks like something that belongs outside of an amusement park called “Big Ape’s Fun Place”.
There is another such attraction a few blocks from The BOB that stands at an imposing height of what appears to be 30 feet tall. It would be a mechanical robot that shoots fire from its hands, face and shoulders, and whose chest is glowing with a man inside controlling this metallic juggernaut.
While these attractions are a visual treat, what is there really to gain beyond the wow factor one might feel? What ArtPrize does well is attract eyeballs, but when your eyeballs are doing all the work and your mind takes a cigarette break, it might be time to move on and find the right one. real art hidden in a dark corner of the bathroom.
While these theme park attractions have their flaws, nothing is worse than the hip outdoor store that advertises itself as a ‘Prize art venue’ that actually only displays one painting on top. entry doors to attract potential customers. Nothing says art like a painting surrounded by overpriced North Face and Patagonia jackets.
Oh, and sure enough, I can’t forget the four-dimensional works of art strung together with different pieces of neon-colored yarn that look like a little light show hanging under a staircase in the downtown market between the stall of fresh sushi and artisan cheeses.
What I’m trying to say is that even though some of these local businesses have real works of art in them, what they are promoting is not art at all, but rather what they are offering in as a business. When commercialism comes before art at an event literally titled “ArtPrize”, you may need to rethink your branding in the future.
When you attend major events like these which only take place once a year, you are always looking for what will stay with you well beyond your departure. In this case, it was pieces by visual designer Carol Johnson that were exhibited inside the we are LIT bookstore.
As you walk into the somewhat compressed little bookstore, you encounter a flurry of black authored novels. Colson Whitehead’s latest work can be found right next to the book by Michelle Obama, whose work is next to a book by hip-hop artist Rick Ross.
The context in which the art is located is important because it is a local bookstore with content from non-white artists. While you encounter these multicultural novels, you also come across a piece of art that shows three blacks hanged.
The play is a statement in American history. As you see the three blacks hanging from a thick tree, you also see the words “He Voted” stuck on two of the black men’s chests. Above them, in the sky tinged with blue, orange and yellow, two hands reach out to welcome the three spirits in the sky. To the right of this piece, titled “Giving a Voice to the Voiceless,” Johnson explains his work from the perspective of those who died in the lynchings that took place in America from the 1800s to the 1970s.
Next to this artwork and Johnson’s description is another artwork by Johnson, which displays the names of people who were lynched in every state in the United States. can’t help but feel the pain. The pain that a certain race of people have suffered since the minute they were dragged to the United States and the pain they still suffer to this day.
Johnson’s artwork is what events like ArtPrize need. Located in the heart of a city where almost every face you see is white, it’s important for these people to know what their race has done to another for hundreds of years. As Johnson says, “The Rope will treat men, women and children alike, regardless of their color. ”