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Art Prize 2012 A First Look


Another year…..ArtPrize has taken over Grand Rapids.  Some call it a carnival.  Some a grand experiment in public taste.  Some, like me, are happy to  enjoy the creativity and energy that the Art Competition with the largest monetary reward engenders.

It transforms our city.


My feeling is that ArtPrize is best experienced in snippets–a couple of hours here and there. Otherwise it can be overwhelming.    Here’s what I discovered and observed on my first few forays into the extravaganza we call ArtPrize.  If art prize is new to you, click here for more info.

First I have to call out my friend Jerry DePersia’s and his son’s sculpture at the DeVos Convention center.  It’s a Forcola.  What’s that you ask?  In addition to being an wonderful sculpture and masterful piece craftmanship, a forcola is an oarlock from a Venetian gondola. Stop by and take a look and learn more.

Site:Lab always intrigues me.  I love what the two founders, Tom Clinton and Paul Amenta have done to encourage creative and grass roots arts projects. They take abandoned or empty spaces and work with artists and students to create art–temporal and always thought provoking.

This year their space is the old Grand Rapids Public Museum, the site of their first Site:Lab.


Since I grew up in Western Michigan, I had immediate flashback to the time when the whale hung in the center of the big hall and the many times I peered into  the dioramas on class field trips. Now they are transformed in interesting ways.



I appreciate the Site:Lab sense of humor.  Art doesn’t have to be deadly serious.







I did see some dark and depressing stuff, there and at Fountain Street Church.  The installation commenting on the state of the homeless is a sobering spot.  It is thought provoking, but is it art?  You tell me.


 A nice balance at Fountain Street church is the a piece by a Eric Nye, young Chicago artist–an interactive piece.   It was a series of boxes that rotate with photos of kids, their thoughts on Hope and Fear, superimposed on a background graphics that formed more patterns.  Complex, interesting and a nice balance of negative and positive.  The artist has a kickstarter campaign to help cover his costs.  I encourage participation in this.

 Nearby I liked the piece in Westminster Church showing photographers……so much of what is on show at Art Prize is huge and three dimensional.  This is really nice and well done.  I’m sorry it wasn’t hung in a position for better viewing.

I was most impressed with the Grand Rapids Art Museum. They have selected the pieces to reflect the theme Transformation–making their ArtPrize offerings more like a traditional art museum exhibit.  I really like that they took it one step further with large graphics to help folks who may be in an Art Museum for the first time to interpret and understand what they are seeing.



On view is a piece by one time Art Prize winner, Chris LaPorte.



People watching is fun at ArtPrize.  How about these two who happily posed for me?    A cute young artist signing autographs. The performance artist was particularly engaging.   He said he was making his way around ArtPrize, “just to see what happens.”









Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Georgia Gietzen
    Sep 25, 2012 Reply

    Timely for me . . . heading to GR this week and will check out some venues.

  2. posted by
    Barbara Mouw
    Sep 25, 2012 Reply

    Growing up in West Michigan as well, I also remember the large Whale and the “Diorama” during our class field trips. I miss the old Museum building that many of us wondered through. I loved going “downtown” then, and love going down now for Art Prize. The thing I enjoy the most, and that we experience every year is the way people talk to each other about the entries. People who do not know each other, yet they feel comfortable talking about someones vision. To me that is Art. I love what Art Prize is doing to Grand Rapids, my home, and the place I am proud to call home.

  3. posted by
    Sep 30, 2012 Reply

    ArtPrize looks like a wonderful event that brings your whole community together. You have done a great job of capturing the unusual art that no doubt makes this event so special.

  4. posted by
    Ryan Vaughn
    Oct 1, 2012 Reply

    I actually loved the exhibit in the Fountain Street Church about the homeless people. It was sad, it was moving, and yes I think it was art. Although I will admit that that is subjective. 🙂

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