by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL
Over the years many events have come and gone from Grand Rapids, but none have succeeded more admirably than the brainchild of Rick DeVos—the 18-day extravaganza named ArtPrize 2009. The unprecedented success for downtown Grand Rapids brought thousands of visitors from the greater Grand Rapids community and beyond to view the collective works of 1,262 artists from 41 states and 15 foreign countries. Every imaginable genre of art was on display at 159 venues within three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids. The good, the bad and the ugly—it was all on display to be voted up or down by anyone who registered to vote. Aside from the artwork on display, visitors were introduced to, many for the first time, the destination mecca that is downtown Grand Rapids.
Early in the competition, on two separate days, your reporters had viewed many but not all of the exhibits on display. After one week, the competition was winnowed down to a final 10.
During the following week, voters were again asked to choose, from the final 10, the ultimate winners of the ArtPrize competition. So during the last day of voting, the Squire paid a return visit to pick our personal favorites. Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. We each had our own favorites, which we won’t divulge.
Last Thursday evening, the winners were announced and we were amazed at the good fortune of having photographed and interviewed each of the top three winners along with their respective works of art the previous day.
The $250,000 first-place prize went to Ran Ortner of Brooklyn, N.Y., with his oil-on-canvas painting titled “Open Water no. 24” which was exhibited in the Old Federal Building. The 19-foot-wide by six-foot-high painting is a mesmerizing seascape of rolling waves. Among other accomplishments, Ortner is a surfer and has had a lifelong love affair with water and entered his recently completed painting in ArtPrize.
“I had never before been to Grand Rapids and had no idea of the importance of the Lake Michigan seashore and the Grand River to the people who live here,” said Ortner.
Fate had also conspired to place Ortner’s painting directly behind another entry, a 14-foot-long by 10-foot-wide by 4.5-foot-high mechanical sculpture of swaying reeds titled, “Field of Reeds.” (This entry created by John Douglas Powers of Birmingham, Ala. took seventh place in the competition.)
The paring of the two exhibits was perfect. One had to look across the room, over the waving reeds, to view the crashing waves of the painting on the opposite wall. In viewing the painting this way, it was as if one was transported to our beloved beaches of Lake Michigan.
One can only wonder if “Open Water no. 24” would have captured first place without “Field of Reeds” at its feet.
The $100,000 second-place prize was won by Tracy Van Duinen with his larger-than-life tile mural permanently installed on the east side of the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. The mural, titled “Imagine That,” is a perfect match with its venue.
“Depicting children in awe, my colorful mural celebrates children’s imagination and dreams,” said Van Duinen.
Van Duinen was born and raised in Grand Rapids and attended Kendall College of Art & Design and currently teaches art in the Chicago Public School System.
“My bricolage mural was built to last and from day one I determined that it would be donated to the Children’s Museum,” said Van Duinen.
Van Duinen is donating $5,000 of his prize money to God’s Kitchen of Grand Rapids and $2,000 to the nonprofit Chicago Public Art Group.
The $50,000 third-place prize was won by Eric Daigh of Traverse City, Mich. His entry, “Portraits,” also on display in the Old Federal Building, is a series of three 4×6-foot portraits. Created from photographs—one of his wife and the other two of female friends—each portrait is created by the use of thousands of pushpins.
“I used 23,625 pushpins in each portrait,” said Daigh. “Colors and shadings were created by the use of pushpins of red, white, black, blue and yellow.”
Viewed from a distance, the portraits were so realistic that they convinced the face recognition technology of our digital camera that it (the camera) was looking at real live faces.
At the awards ceremonies in DeVos Place last Thursday evening Daigh said, “I feel as though I am at the ‘Oscars’ and have just been awarded one of the coveted statues.”
Daigh said he plans on returning and entering ArtPrize 2010, but his medium won’t be pushpins! “I’m going to have to create something else,” said the communication arts illustrator.
Speaking of 2010, Rick DeVos and his team of ArtPrize sponsors, venues and volunteers are already planning a bigger and more finely tuned event for next year.