Still in its infancy, ArtPrize, Michigan’s international public art festival, draws hundreds of thousands of tourists into Grand Rapids for two carnivalesque weeks each year, pumping $22 million into the city’s economy. It makes one wonder why more cities don’t explore the economic and cultural potential of public art. Fortunately, those not among the nearly half-million attendees that came this fall can experience the show’s highlights at the Grand Rapids Art Museum’s ArtPrize Encore, slated to run until the end of ArtPrize 2015.
ArtPrize began in 2009, drawing about 200,000 visitors, and has been increasingly popular ever since. Anyone can submit work; this year featured over 1,500 entries. The public gets to vote for the best works, though a separate panel of experts chooses winners of their own, conscientiously initiating a conversation about the conflict between public and expert taste.
Unprecedentedly, this year both juries awarded the crowning laurel to Pakistani-born artist Anila Quayyum Agha, whose sculpture comprises the unmistakable centerpiece of ArtPrize Encore. Agha’s Intersections, a site-specific installation at the GRAM, is a suspended cube of elaborate laser-cut wooden tracery, its patterns derived from Spain’s Alhambra. A solitary light in its center projects kaleidoscopic light and shadows on the gallery’s walls, floors, and ceiling; viewers who step into the space, their own shadows cast onto the gallery walls, inevitably become part of the pattern. It’s an immersive baptism by light that can only be experienced in person (though prospective viewers should be aware that Intersections will be pulled from ArtPrize Encore before the rest of the show).
Ten other works comprise the rest of ArtPrize Encore, each selected by the museum’s curators who scouted the festival for highlights which respond well to the GRAM’s permanent collection. For example, Tanya Ragir’s Sandscapes, presenting three disorientingly fragmented close-ups of the female body, now hangs alongside the GRAM’s modest collection of cubist-inspired sculpture and painting.
The ambitious I am Not Who You Think I Am/ No soy quien crees que soy fills an entire gallery and then some. Here, activist artist Salvador Jiménez offers a multimedia installation presenting viewers with many inventive and varied ceramic self-portraits exposing persistent, ethnic stereotypes and addressing the conflict Jiménez feels between his identities as a bi-lingual, bi-cultural Mexican-born artist working in America.
Since the works of ArtPrize Encore were created independently and originally exhibited at different venues throughout the city, there is admittedly a certain lack of cohesion. But ArtPrize itself doesn’t have a theme, after all, other than to serve as a visible platform for public art. So for the duration of the year, viewers to the GRAM can get their public art fix until ArtPrize 2015 which, if previous years are any indication of what is to come, promises to be the biggest one yet.
The ArtPrize website is a wonderful repository of images and information, including news about the forthcoming ArtPrize Dallas, set to launch in 2016: http://www.artprize.org/