A&D at ArtPrize

. May 22, 2012.

In only its third year, ArtPrize in Grand Rapids has established itself as one of the world’s preeminent art fairs. Not just in Michigan or America — the world. ArtPrize is a radically open art competition, part festival, part social experiment, giving away the world’s largest art prize ($250,000 for first prize, $100,000 for second, $50,000 for third, and seven grand each for fourth through tenth. I’ll do the math:  $449,000 total).  There is no selection, no jury.  Anyone can submit their work. Winners are decided solely by public vote.  It’s no wonder, then, that this year’s ArtPrize includes more than 1,500 artists from 36 countries and 43 states.  In short, be there by closing day, October 9.

Don’t believe me. Richard Florida of the New York Times wrote, “I was kind of blown away by it. You think: why doesn’t this happen in Brooklyn or the San Francisco Bay Area?” Coincidentally, the first year’s winner, Ran Ortner, is from Brooklyn. When he arrived from New York his phone had been shut off because he couldn’t afford to pay his bill. He walked away with a quarter mil — plus two other of his paintings sold and he added on three commissions. Michael Kaiser, President of Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, asked, “Who would have guessed that the perfect lesson for coping successfully with a failing economy would come from Grand Rapids?”

Who, indeed? Grand Rapids is referred to even by denizens as Bland Rapids, and has a reputation of being the product of straight-laced, prim-and-proper, Dutch Reformed ennui.  But reputations can be deceiving. Meijer Gardens, the outdoor sculpture park, and the Grand Rapids Museum of Art are world class. The restaurants in the city are excellent.  And wherever you find a repressive veneer, underneath there is wild youth movement.  Not to mention Saugatuck, practically a suburb on the Lake Michigan shore, one of the premier gay-friendly summer vacation spots in the country. But those are facile observations. For whatever reason, Grand Rapids has pulled together from top to bottom to put on a synergistic happening that is even hard for them and the artists and us, the hundreds of thousands of festival visitors, to believe.

Making it happen

The community is the bottom line. For one, there are the donators. Among the biggies are, no surprise, Amway, Meijer, Herman Miller, Steelcase, four De Vos foundations and – cheers! – Stella Artois.  But there are hundreds of other contributors, including shops and eateries and galleries and media and city government and local
art fans. Most important, though, are the many thousands of local volunteers. They do everything from greeting
and answering questions to opening their homes to the artists during the event. They are the hands-on hosts of the city, and they make everyone feel welcome and delighted to be there.

Shuttles stop at all the principle venues. If you’re just going for the day, park at Meijer Gardens, one of the main venues and just off the highway, and you can tour the amazing park. Then take the shuttle and don’t miss the Grand Rapids Museum of Art and its wonderful permanent collection, another featured venue. If you’re staying overnight, you may or may not find a room in town. But there is plenty of room along the charming Lake Michigan coast because the summer season is over. That’s good news for ArtPrize visitors.  Those of us who swelter in July at the Ann Arbor Art Fair will appreciate the mild October weather. Google: ArtPrize.

Local favs

The University of Michigan School of Art and Design has a prominent contingent at ArtPrize, including 28 faculty and alumni. Among them are the dynamic duo, husband and wife Helen Gotlib and Dylan Stryznski who have been together since they met at A&D.  Helen focuses on figurative and botanical drawing, using live models and delicate dried flowers that she sketches with pen and ink, then fills in with watercolor or gouache. Dylan has been exploring an expanding socio-environmental set of themes that he describes as “paranoid” and “cartoon expressionism.” He uses a variety of media, including roofing tar (gouache on steroids).  Let’s face it, no matter how paranoid you get you can never keep up.  Like most Ann Arbor artists, Gotlib and Stryznski welcome the public to their home studios.  To see hundreds of pieces that could never fit into a regular gallery setting call 734.678.7976 to make an appointment.

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