Art installations take over the Michigan town.
Milling about downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., last fall, I discovered pieces of art at every turn. There were steel "barrel full of monkey" shapes hanging from the pedestrian Blue Bridge over the Grand River and wooden grizzly bears crafted with chain saws placed in the cascade fountain in front of the Gerald R. Ford Museum. A giant crooked door, cracked open, was placed on the grass along the Grand River.
I was visiting Michigan's second-largest city during ArtPrize, a 19-day extravaganza that has turned a 3-square-mile area there into not only a giant contemporary art show but also a social experiment.
From the city's many bridges and plazas, to the walls of its hot-dog shops and pizza parlors, to its sidewalks and green spaces, art is everywhere. For the show in 2011, the pieces by 1,582 artists displayed in 162 venues ranged from the prosaic to the whimsical to the provocative to the exquisite. Venetian watercolors lined the wall of a hot-dog shop and gecko sculptures hugged lampposts. Each was identified by an ArtPrize sign that gave information about the artist -- and how to vote for the piece.
ArtPrize drew an estimated 322,000 visitors last fall who pointed, touched, inspected, laughed, frowned and ooohed and ahhed. I overheard one teenage boy remark about a painting, "That's really cool. I don't really understand it, but it's cool." Visitors also voted for their favorite pieces. The event, in its fourth year, will run from Sunday through Oct. 7.
For the first three years, the show was primarily non-juried. The public judged the art pieces by voting for them online. And 38,000 registered voters did last year, casting 383,000 total votes from their computers and smartphones.
Although changes are being made in judging for its fourth year, the show will continue to award the largest prize purse of any art show in the world -- a total of $560,000.
This year, there will be a $100,000 juried grand prize, but the emphasis will remain on engaging the public. The top public vote winner will get $200,000, second prize $75,000, third $50,000 and fourth through 10th places, $5,000 each.
ArtPrize is the brainchild of Rick DeVos, the 30-something eldest grandson of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, whose money and influence helped build Grand Rapids.
Virtually any spot in Grand Rapids can be a stage for art, even smack in the middle of the Grand River. During the first year, "Nessie on the Grand," a Loch Ness monster image by the Nessie Project, won sixth place.
This year, two contenders for river venues are "Fishes," a set of six independent fish arranged in a school, and "Horse Stampede," in which horse sculptures fashioned from bare tree branches and plate steel use the water's movement to make them look as if they're galloping.