Thursday, October 27, 2011

Denise Goes to ArtPrize

ArtPrize is an international art event currently in its 3rd year, held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It holds the largest cash prizes of any art event in the world, at $484,ooo; $449,000 of which is voted by the public. The remaining $35,000 amount is used in a juried vote by a panel of arts writers and curators. Around 160 venues host artists, from museums, universities, and sculpture gardens to restaurants and hotels in the city, for 19 days in September through October. It is a juried event. Artists submit a page about themselves and their work, venues submit a page about their space. Then, the artists "link" to only the venues they are interested in. The venue juries from this pool. Some venues are professionally juried, such as the museums, universities and galleries. The rest is done by each individual business staff of each hotel, restaurant, coffee bar, church, or public arena, such as the convention center and the Gerald Ford Library. A total of 1,582 artists from 42 states and 37 countries were hosted this year.
Part 1: My Venue, Open Concept Gallery
The staff arrives at Open Concept Gallery. This gallery is a progressive project space, located in a hundred-year old Masonic temple in the sixth floor of the Trade Center Building, one block from the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Access is by a massive, vintage freight elevator. The exhibit was curated by Nicole Turner, who is a photography professor at Kendall College of Art and Design.
When you go to an event like this, it is important to bring every possible tool, prop, and piece of promotional material you can scrape up. The gallery might not have everything you need. I brought floor spots and clamp lights, all of which were used. I had at least 2,000 exhibit cards and bookmarks get picked up from the gallery and off the street where I was working.
Bill Brown and curator Nicole Turner mug with "Quantum Confusion"
This was the first time I hung the two 4' x 8' plexi sheets used in this installation by a horizontal support cable. It went from one wall to a balcony post. I padded the post wrap, and used turnbuckles to tighten it. Bill Brown, an artist from Lansing, MI, was brilliant helping me get them in place. It took a looooong time because:
they only had one floor ladder. Sara Gauthier and her dad were installing her ten foot high graphite drawing, "Abraham, Martin and John" on the same day. So, we kept trading the ladder back and forth as we worked. Gauthier's drawing was on multiple sheets of paper that had to be exactly positioned and pinned in place to avoid sagging. These were all the paper problems I used to have that led me to working on plywood.
"Quantum Confusion", and to the right, Chicago's Richard Pociask's amazing three-dimensional graphite drawing installation, "Drawn to a Drawing".

Theodore Carrozza's Giant wooden carved flamingos came in from New Jersey.
Adrian Waggoner, from Salt Lake City, Utah, installs his diptych "Young Saints and Old Martyrs", which also incorporated the use of real gold leaf. It was amusing to watch the reaction of some people when confronted by the nudity in these breathtakingly beautiful paintings. I particularly wanted to wop upside the head one woman that I saw make an icky face when she looked at the martyrs. She did a complete turnabout and left. What a sicko. I'm not sure how some people get messed up like that. (She was with her husband, poor man.)
Old Martyrs
Overview from the balcony
William Gerrish's "Element of Danger". Gerrish is from Sault Sainte Marie, MI
Prints by Meridith Adamisin of Royal Oaks, MI

"The Sweet Swell of Success", by Amanda Joseph of Chicago, IL
"He is Flying High", by Mikiko Kano of NY, NY
"KT and the Second Coming", by Adrian Hatfield of Fernale, MI. Yes-it is 3D diorama style. Yes- I love this piece. It makes me crazy.
"The Dead Matador", a self-portrait by Sadie Starnes of Tokyo, Japan
A couple of Bill Brown Jr's clay "Whimsicles". I think they wanted to go hang out with the bird and dinosaur. I know I would. Brown is using them to make animations.
"Drawn to a Drawing" by Richard Pociask. EVERYTHING in this is a graphite drawing, including the plaid on the shirt (I think... using water-soluble graphite?), the image on the bag, the pattern on the kleenex box, even the texture on the rocks.

Part 2: Six Days Drawing Outside
I was on deadline for my November exhibit at The Arts Company in Nashville, TN so, though I wanted to hang out for the 1st week of voting at ArtPrize, I still needed to work. So, I brought my work with me. I rigged my hand truck into a heavy duty street easel, and figured I could market my venue best and get my work done at the same time by being out with the crowds working and handing out exhibit/venue cards. Would the cops bug me? Nope. As a cruiser drove by, she just rolled her window down and yelled "Are you doing all that with a pencil?" I was good with the cops. And the meter maids, ex-cons... but not with the gross guy who thought he could get me to go out to dinner with him. Yeah, right. He didn't understand how my husband could let me go off and come up there all by myself. I explained to him what a business trip was. He started insulting my work after I turned him down. Prick. Actually, he was the only creep. The city was beautiful, and the people were really nice and very friendly.
The Grand Rapids public school system lets the kids and the teachers out of school for an all day field trip going to art venues, listening to artist lecture, and... hanging around me in front of the Grand Rapids Art Museum! They have a nice park there. I swear I met every student in town. The real pesty ones got to try out the pencils and smudge sticks on the side of the plywood. Three girls decided to smudge the charcoal onto their faces like football players and ran off. At the last second one stopped and asked "This will wash off, right?"

Part 3: Out on the street and reactions to stuff that got my attention.
Note: This event is incredibly inclusive. It attracts everyone from every level and area of the art world. Self-taught, outsider artists, hobbyists, BFA's and MFA's who exhibit regularly in museums and universities, emergent and mid career, progressive and traditional, and well known sculptors who have public work in cities all across the country. What you see where depends on the background of the people jurying the particular venue. Some people say art is totally subjective-well, taste is what is subjective. Art can be judged by both technical and intellectual content. It was all there, from the pedestrian, to the sublime, to the witty.
"What the Truck" is a great name for a mobile food kitchen.
Believe it or not, this was a $7,000 public vote winner. Painted construction worker Mimes. The mimes in Asheville are much better. When was that "live mannequin" fad? The 1980's? There was a lot of anger from the art community over what the public voted for, and I must admit they chose more challenging work last year, but the public vote is a more innocent vote. The kids liked these guys. Another winner was a bunch of chain saw carved bears they had on rocks in the Grand River, by a Michigan artist! I didn't know they did that up there-I thought we owned that genre here in Tennessee, dammit. I'm going to try to get all the guys from the Gatlinburg area up there next year. Heck-they can even do chain saw Jesus here. Let's have a chain saw sculpture battle-North vs South. These guys were in the parking lot of the BOB (big old building) which was the the most heavily visited and, unfortunately, worst curated outdoor location.
This fish is coming out of bricks, with names carved on them like "Vince Gill" and "Salmon Rushdie". I declare a jihad.
If you want to let people have your business card on an outside metal sculpture, use magnetic business cards and stick them everywhere! Who cares if they distract from the work..... (Am I getting too snarky yet? I promised myself I would behave.)
I want to know where the leprechaun is. This piece sucks without the leprechaun. A leprechaun would at least help to make it deliberately tacky ...and hence, ironic! At the BOB
Okkkkkkk...this one was done by young, I think white, performance artists from NYC looking for a political theme. If it was done by elderly African Americans from Alabama it would have authenticity, and I wouldn't have laughed when the wind blew the signs down. At the BOB
I just love this. Hilarious. It was in the window of a tanning salon. They turned the window into a "Photography Studio" window. There were a ton more photos, but I wanted details of just a few.
I don't like having my picture taken, but I would eagerly let this person outdo themselves with me.
Students from Kendall College take to the streets, modeling some of the hand felted art dresses by one of their hosted artists, Horst and Je'siq.
In an event like this, you get a certain number of works created for the event that focus on pandering for votes. This was my Pandering mega winner. Take hometown hero President Gerald Ford, make him in fiberglass resin, holding a pipe, and contemplating a bronze bust of himself. Encase it in a glass box (kinda like sleeping beauty's coffin, except upright) and put it on a podium surrounded by flags and flag bunting on the sidewalk, outside the convention center. OK every one sing along....God Bless America... (by the way, the artist, Sunti Pichetchaiyakul, is from Thailand, and the piece was technically very well done, and even had a creepiness that made me like it despite myself). He spent the entire time by his piece on the sidewalk, sculpting a bust of recently deceased Betty Ford...for some spiritual reason, the newspaper or some other source said. I'm glad there was another artist outside working, people really like to watch. It makes the event more interesting. There was even a venue that was entirely for performing musicians and composers, that were scheduled for the entire event.
What was that toy called... Barrel of Monkeys? It really worked on the Blue Bridge. Massachusetts sculptor. He was running around promoting himself by handing out small monkey key chains. He dropped one in my pencil box while I was working. I texted him a vote.
My parents never bought me one because they were more expensive than the match box trucks they'd buy me in the hardware store. I still have my matchbox trucks, but I still want a Tonka. I want this one, even if they had to spell the name wrong.
This girl is annoyed because she knows the difference between "glitter" and sequins.
Einstein in paddle balls. I really think there needs to be a punishment for artists who use photos of Einstein for anything. It has been overdone. Did you know that fully half of all eighth graders in this country have used a photo of Einstein to do a portrait drawing during 2nd semester? I want to pass the "No more Einstein portraits" law. Shit, the problem is the darn thing is quite well done and funny as hell.
Yup. A hand cast iron pan for all 48 contiguous states, mounted on a 4' x 8' 3/4" birch plywood sheet. Can you guess the weight? I've injured my wrist handling my own pan cooking. Lodge, USA needs to buy this for their corporate headquarters. Do they have artists in residence? Kohler, the toilet, sink and faucet people do.
This was an autobiographical piece about the artist's introduction to art as a kid, with a paint-by-numbers set. It was witty and beautifully executed. I'm sure a lot of the artists walking by got flashbacks. I know I did.
I want to talk about the importance of locating work in group exhibits. There needs to be a certain flow, and conceptual considerations for proximity of one work to the other. I'm standing on the 2nd floor walkway, looking down... crucifixion, and up... giant mouse trap. Oh, snap. (sorry-that was bad). These two works, the skillet map and paint-by-numbers, were in the Convention Center, a nice big building, but kind of challenging for exhibiting art. The crucifixion, by Chicago artist Mia Tavonatti, was a glass mosaic and won the $250,000 public vote 1st prize, amid some anger and outcries from artists about religious art. I thought that was odd, considering that this is about the number one subject matter for Western Art in the last 1,500 years. I think the glass pieces were even hand made. Sure, it wasn't Casimo Cavalleros's six foot tall, chocolate, "My Sweet Lord", so there was nothing edgy going on, but it's the public vote. It was really well executed, and would have made an incredible statement in some church, but is now owned by ArtPrize. The top award is a purchase award.

Part 4: Stuff I really, really liked.
Of the venues I got a chance to visit, the exhibits at Kendall College of Art and Design, and the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art (UICA), were hands down the best. No weaknesses, just solid, excellent, progressive, challenging work fantastically presented. The Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) was also excellent, but had a few weak spots, which surprised me. Above image is of Jonathan Brilliant's "Have Sticks Will Travel", a site specific piece built out of coffee stir sticks right outside the college's cafe. It was organic, airy, and a wonderful piece to observe while people explored it. Half its power was in how it filtered the view of everything else that was seen through it.
Alas, this is what happened during take down day. I should have asked for a chunk to bring home. Damn-I just thought of that.
"Two for Tea" by Tanya Lyons of Lachute, Quebec- at the GRAM
Fellow Tennessee artist, Natalie Andrews (with Rymer Gallery, Nashville), had this fantastic piece at the GRAM. Yes, the sign said to interact with it, and if 6 to 12 year old kids could vote, it would have gotten the $250,000 award.
The kids were so wild I even saw one trip and fall face first. The guards just ignored it. I was wondering what Natalie would think, so I iPAD'd a low res image and sent it to her, and she thought it was funny, so all was well. I hope there wasn't too much damage. It was attached very well to the ceiling.
Back at Kendall College, we have, to the left, the third piece at ArtPrize from a Tennessee artist, my Knoxville buddy Katie Walberg's "Traveling Trashball", an interactive graphic novel series (alas, sans Mr. Trashball himself). And to the right, Saint Louis artist Mimi Kato's unbelievably entertaining "One Ordinary Day of an Ordinary Town". Inspired by 16th century Japanese paintings, all the characters contained are self portraits of the artist. Cindy Sherman would have an awesome time hanging out with Mimi. I bet they could do one hell of a collaboration. This was my favorite piece of everything I saw at ArtPrize, and I sure did the Happy Dance when the juror panel gave it first award: 2D.
Two details below:

"Atrium" at Kendall-Monica Ponce de Leon and Maciej Kaczynski.
At UICA, they have very specific and unusual gallery sizes, making artists work way ahead to come up with site specific projects. This was a very deserving jury award winner for best 3D:
"Nature Preserve", by Michele Brody of NYC.
Yes-this is one of UICA's gallery spaces-under the floor behind plexiglass. The piece inside is inflatable vinyl, and it was attached to a pump, and it breathed.
Another piece at the UICA-the morphing of a Mary sculpture. It was small, and started off very degraded, on one side, to completely formed at the other end. The distortion is due to my Sony pan-sweep camera.
I didn't win anything, but I sold a street piece that I was working on, met a ton of people, and had a great time. And scored a front page image on October 3rd in the Grand Rapids Press! Yes, the reporter has his hand pressed on my plexiglass. I actually like this. The amount of hand and finger prints all over it at the end of an exhibit, plus dusty footprints on the floor bases, indicate that people had fun interacting with my plywood people and their situation.
Would I do this event again which required three twenty-hour round trips to Michigan? You bet, but I'd have to have something worthy of being hosted again, by one of the professionally juried venues. I don't want to be in Dave's Tacos.