Every fall, over 400,000 art connoisseurs, hipsters and locals come to Grand Rapids, Mich. (around an hour and a half from Berrien Springs), to see the famed ArtPrize, an art contest which has been running from Sept 21 and will continue until this Sunday, Oct. 9. This year, even Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump came by the Gerald Ford Museum to catch some of the ArtPrize’s sights. For this event, downtown Grand Rapids is converted into a citywide, internationally-acclaimed, open art museum. According to The Art Newspaper, ArtPrize is the most attended public art event in the world. Buildings are full of paintings, sculptures, films and even live performers. This year alone, ArtPrize displayed over 1,450 entries, including an entry from one of our own Professor Emeritus of Art, Greg Constantine, who submitted a piece of verbal art on manufactured license plates. Winners are chosen by both professional judges and the general public who vote online, and more than $500,000 in prize money is divided up between the few winning entries.
It was a truly a unique experience walking downtown amongst the crowds, marveling at truly spectacular works of art. Some of my favorite pieces were found in the Devos Place Convention Center. Sculptor Marc Sijan created a magnificent life-size sculpture of an older couple embracing each other. Sijan created this piece using polyester resin and oil paint. However, the figurative sculpture looked so real, that many onlookers waited to watch if the two figures would inhale a breath. The exhibit was extremely intricate. Much care was put into this piece of art, insuring that the wrinkles, tan lines and freckles all perfectly resembled that of a real human being.
Also found in the Devos Place Convention Center was a series of paintings by Chinese artist Zhaona. Her four individual paintings depicted the four seasons, complete with trees, flowers, and animals spread amongst the foliage. However, at closer inspection, one finds that there are hidden dangers in these beautiful scenes. In the painting entitled "Summer," there are monkeys happily swinging in the trees. Unbeknownst to them, a shark has disguised himself as a tree trunk, and is patiently waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Zhaona describes her paintings; they "aim to [describe] the appearance when ease and danger exist at the same time. Most danger exists at our most relaxed and accustomed moment. Even those you are familiar with, trusted people and things can become a weapon for your defeat. Because they know you very well, just like a long-time disrepaired lock, an old loyal computer, tobacco and alcohol addiction lurking in the body, they please you, but at some point will betray you," (artprize.org). It is clear that she is deeply motivated and passionate about this topic and how it is expressed in art.
It is an understatement to say that this year's exhibits were phenomenal. It was clear that each piece took time and dedication from a diverse group of artists. The aim of ArtPrize is to be “unorthodox, highly disruptive and undeniably intriguing.” In my opinion, the contest accomplished its goal, presenting the public with a unique, stirring and enchanting experience.