I spent a few days in Grand Rapids looking at the juried and public prize finalists at ArtPrize. ArtPrize describes itself as a radically open, independently organized international art competition and a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Basically, it’s a citywide exhibition in which the public and a jury vote on their favorite artworks. The top winner of the juried and public vote prize takes home $200,000. The top winner for category prizes takes home $20,000.
In case you’re wondering what I thought of the finalists, I spent a bit of time on TV talking about each of them. The winners, I haven’t weighed in on until now. A few thoughts on both the jury and public vote:
- I’d be interested to see whether a jury of Michigan-based experts would change the results. The public vote tends to heavily favor locals. Would experts be subject to the same biases? It would be interesting to find out that answer, since the jury was New York-heavy and two of the four category prizes went to people who were either from New York (Julie Schenkelberg) or had lived there at one time (Dance in the Annex of Grand Rapids).
- Based on the winners alone in the juried prize, it seems resumes have a far greater influence on the jury than they have on the public.
- Anila Quayyum Agha took home both the public prize and the juried prize for her lit Islamic design cube installation. This was an incredibly executed piece that needs no explanation to affect the viewer. I approve.
- I do not approve of the Grand jury’s decision to split the grand prize with Sonya Clark’s “The Haircraft Project.” This was an entirely formulaic piece. A series of hairdressers were asked to style Clark’s hair. They were then photographed in such a way that they were merely a blurry presence behind their creation. After the shot was taken, they were asked to translate their hairstyle onto stretched canvas. The photographs were terrible. The work on stretched canvas inevitably ended up in the center. It tells us nothing we didn’t know already about women’s hair.
- The public and the juried category prize winners generally disappointed; there were plenty of better choices than were made. In the public category, Robert Shangle spent the entirety of ArtPrize, posed in what’s supposed to be a 3D painting. You can go to Times Square to watch this kind of stuff—it’s closer to entertainment than it is art. But I guess calling it art got him 20K, so there are advantages to blurring these lines. “Outcry” by Gretchyn Lauer was the more problematic winner here, though, as this was a still of a crying woman who had been sold into sex slavery. The artist spent all of her time relaying this story to public, essentially selling her story for votes. In the juried category, Maximo Gonzalez won for his tiny pieces of rice embedded in capsules stuck into the wall. Each had the word “tengo” (I have) and “hambre” (hunger) written on it; it is supposed to be about hunger. Fine, but the piece almost entirely disappears in the show. That’s supposed to be the point—those who suffer are also often invisible to those who can help. I suppose it’s a reasonable metaphor, but if the message doesn’t communicate to most viewers does it really need to be rewarded?