ArtPrize 2009: Stumbling towards empathy
Now that ArtPrize 2009 is a fading memory, I can say there is more good than bad to ArtPrize (gasp).
I have many issues with ArtPrize on a functional level but it has the potential be very good for the Visual Arts in Grand Rapids over time. Put another way: how is this not an improvement over having large fiberglass painted cows, fish, birds, etc. scattered around downtowns across America and calling that art?
The salient point of discussion: We all must continually broaden and improve the quality of the work shown and the subtlety of the exchange between Artists and the viewing public.
While Artists are not Doctors, they do share that singular dedication and desire for professionalism and knowledge found in medicine and other professions such as the law, the sciences, the baseball. How does one get the public to understand that premise, fend off biting allegations of elitism, while at the same time being responsible as artist/curators for selecting 1/2 of the top 10?
Margo Burian, a painter friend of mine, remarked the following:
It seems like everyday, more funding to the arts is being cut at both the state and federal levels.My take on it is that the general public feels generally excluded from the arts, therefore the powers that be can make cuts without suffering too much backlash.If ArtPrize did something well, it was getting people to feel included and that they were participating. Does that qualify them to judge art? It’s not my place to say, but what I do know is that many of them cared enough to get off the couch and get down to venues to look at Art.
If we as an artistic community want to have support for the Arts, we have to get the greater community as a whole to see the value of the inclusion of the arts in their lives. If by allowing a public vote, you get the public interested in the arts, we bring the community up as a whole. Its then, when we create an inclusive community, that we can educate people as to the value of the arts and how they play a part in the quality of daily life.
People will defend something they care about. As creative professionals we need to own Art actions, not just be passive observers waiting for an audience to saunter by. The increased traffic will give our local institutions an opportunity to show work that we will want to see that public will be interested in as well.
ArtPrize was a great membership drive for the UICA. Also, several pieces are under negotiation of sale to collectors and UICA gets a cut–another win for the home team. My hunch is that the success of this year will help to shape decisions of who shows next year and where. UICA has set an expectation for success (4 of the top 10). Many other works are in the top 25/50/75/100. I wonder if next year, GRAM will throw it’s doors open for 3 weeks and show work inside instead of just two walls on the exterior. I would not be surprised if the Frederick Meijer Gardens and GVSU are more involved next year as well.
Sure, you will still have the B.O.B. and other restaurants showing work. Smarter artists won’t go back to the venues that make their work subservient to the spectacle of that venue. I felt very uncomfortable looking at artwork and someone else’s lunch or dinner at the same time. The Kissing Booth was the exception that proved the rule.
Besides the UICA/Old Federal Building, I can think of 5 or 6 venues of the dozens I visited that are role models of well presented, non-institutional spaces covering a full spectrum of curatorial premises: Betadesign, Brass Works, 47 Commerce SW, Monroe Community Church, Peaches B&B and Tanglefoot. The work varies in quality, like much of ArtPrize, but these venues really cared about the presentation–they respected Artists. By the way, 2010 venue organizers, you could cherry pick a great 10-12 person show from the right 1-3 artists found at each of these locations.
In the end, advocacy, education and most of all, empathy will improve the conversation and the quality of the work. The public will develop a more informed opinion to compliment an intuitive one about Art and Artists. Artists will gain much in speaking to this newer audience, but it will take some time. Asking questions and listening may be the better action for now. Both sides will garner respect from each other. There is a bigger agenda in play that goes beyond just looking at Art. It will probably take 3 of these before you can effectively critique its impact to the larger schema of the Art World.
Last Saturday, on the last day, two days after all of the winners were announced, there were thousands of people out in the streets of GR simply because they wanted to see the work. Some were artists, 20-somethings, the usual suspects. But also moms and dads taking their kids around downtown. I had great conversations, I listened. A typical story: ‘We wanted to see the top 10 and then got sidetracked.’
Sidetracked: it’s a start. Thank you.
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