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Best of ArtPrize are the surprises [Detroit Free Press]
[October 04, 2012]

Best of ArtPrize are the surprises [Detroit Free Press]


(Detroit Free Press (MI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 04--GRAND RAPIDS -- You know ArtPrize is in full swing when the downtown streets are jammed on a Tuesday afternoon and crowds are elbow-to-elbow at the Grand Rapids Museum of Art, Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts and other major exhibition centers. Or when you come across a sign on the pavement that says, "Look Up! Vote 52603." Related content: -- Mark Stryker: Artists will vie for $560,000 at 4th annual ArtPrize in Grand Rapids -- Annual ArtPrize competition pumps millions into Grand Rapids' economy -- Sylvia Rector: It's easy to dine well near ArtPrize in Grand Rapids Turn your head skyward, and you'll spy a sculpture of a man hanging from a high wire 175 feet in the air.



In its fourth year, ArtPrize remains the most lucrative and democratic art competition in the world. More than 1,500 entries are on display in 161 venues, almost all within the walkable downtown core. A purse of $560,000 in prize money is at stake -- $360,000 awarded by public vote and $200,000 by a professional jury.

The top vote getter wins $200,000; the juried grand prize is $100,000.


With the winners announced Friday and the competition coming to a close Sunday after a final weekend orgy of art, I spent nine hours on Tuesday looking at as much as I could. What follows is my top 10.

Of course, I was able to see only a fraction of what's on display, but I hit all but one of the major exhibition centers and key ancillary sites where the best works are concentrated.

Before my top 10, first a few observations: --Quality seemed slightly higher than when I last attended in 2010, but you still have to wade through an awful lot of schlock. What's best about ArtPrize is that it positions contemporary art within the fabric of everyday life and reaches hundreds of thousands of people. I just wish they were seeing more high-caliber work.

--None of my picks match the top 10 public choices, which lean toward the gee-whiz and spectacle. (However, one of my picks, Gabriel Dawe's colored-thread installation, made the top 25.) --Five of my picks were shortlisted by at least one of the professional jurors. (Hat tip to critic Tyler Green for pointing out Conor Foy's painting at Pub 43, an off-the-beaten-track bar I probably would have missed on my own.) --Curated by Paul Amenta, the installation at Site:Lab @ 54 Jefferson (formerly Grand Rapids Public Museum) features a dynamic show of artists who incorporate in striking fashion the leftover exhibits of this former natural history museum. Also, don't miss the social justice-themed works at the Fountain Street Church.

These spots, plus the exhibition centers, are the place to start your visit, but be sure to wander, too. With ArtPrize, there can be a surprise around any corner -- or in the sky.

"Navigator" by Eugene Lemay (Grand Rapids Art Museum): These meditative, large-scale inkjet drawings, augmented by a row of digital tablets, grow out of the Grand Rapids-born artist's experience in the Israeli army. Pitch black with shadowed horizons and mountains that slowly emerge from the darkness, they create a mood of mystery and expectancy.

"Watermarks" by Sky Pape (Grand Rapids Art Museum): Black-and-white, ink-and-water drawings by a Canadian-born New York artist picture evocative landscapes revealing a masterful command of shadow and light, a visual vocabulary in touch with formal abstraction and an intimate feeling for the whispered subtleties and quiet power of nature, especially water.

"Motivation" by Anne Gates (Grand Rapids Art Museum): A young fiber artist transforms eggshells with threaded embroidery, creating a self-contained, meticulous world of fragile sculptural forms and ambiguous meaning.

"The Reptile Room: Mercury Retrograde," by Scott Hocking (Site: Lab @ 54 Jefferson): The celebrated Detroit artist has installed a sumptuously rusted vintage Mercury, whose glorious decay and hollowed-out interior appear to be waiting for a kind of post-industrialized taxidermy -- the same fate to have befallen the birds, raccoons and other animals trapped in the surrounding dioramas.

"Habitat," by Alois Kronschlaeger (Site: Lab @54 Jefferson): The New York artist magically transforms the natural history dioramas in a gallery through the imposition of architectural forms. In one, wooden grids hold deer captive. In another, visitors walk inside the environment via a bridge: present reality invading a mythologized past.

"Mr. Weekend," by Mike Simi (Kendall College of Art and Design/Historic Federal Building): It's not every day you encounter a 15-foot-tall talking sock puppet, but this laugh-out-loud piece, by a Michigan-born Seattle artist, brings more than the funny. His rap about how he used to build cars before becoming a piece of art offers wry commentary on the new-normal of the post-crash economy.

"Plexus No. 18," by Gabriel Dawe (Kendall College of Art and Design/Historic Federal Building): I'm not generally an eye-candy person, but this rewarding rainbow prism of colored sewing thread by a Mexican-born artist based in Dallas creates a mesmerizing effect while also seeming to riff on the color-field and optical art movements of the 1960s.

"Collective Cover Project," by Ann Morton (Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts): I didn't think much about this curious installation of white canvas-covered found objects when I first saw it, but the memory is haunting. Each object -- a teddy bear, shoe, sweater, apron, chair -- is embroidered with a serial number in an online registry linking to a constructed history that shatters its anonymity.

For me, it reads as a metaphor for all that society throws away, including people.

"Disabilities and Sexuality," by Robert Coombs (Fountain Street Church): A young Michigan photographer, recently paralyzed, created this remarkable set of beautifully made portraits in which disabled, but still virile young men appear naked -- with crutches, in a wheelchair, etc. The pieces offer a window into the subjects' undiminished sexuality and humanity.

"East View 1," by Conor Foy (Pub 43): An Irish-born New York artist marries inventive formal qualities with powerful emotion in this small, brushy oil painting in which a slain man (soldier ) suggests a ghostly apparition amid the hint of an abstract structure or a fence.

Contact Mark Stryker: 313-222-6459 or mstryker@freepress.com ___ (c)2012 the Detroit Free Press Visit the Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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