Thursday, 4 October 2012


I finally attended ArtPrize in Grand Rapids for the first time this year. ArtPrize is the world's largest open art competition with $560,000 in total prizes - $360,000 of which is awarded by public vote and $200,000 awarded by a group of art experts. The competition was started three years ago by a local benefactor and has been wildly successful, drawing artists and visitors from around the country and even the world.

In previous years the winners were selected by the public, but after some controversy last year, juried prizes were added. I thought this was probably a wise decision on the part of the organisers - after all, you want to have a wide range of entries, and professional artists with a less populist style might not want to participate if they feel they don't have a chance to win.

It was an amazing experience to wander around downtown encountering wildly different styles of art. One major difference with the art you generally encounter in art museums was immediately apparent. The people like animals. I'm pretty fond of them myself, especially when they appear in this state.

Amazing work of taxidermy 

Another of my favourites was, appropriately, migration data related. It consisted of more than 20 hanging glass cylinders, the shapes of which were based on the population growth of American cities. Coolest infographic ever.

The ballooning bulb is New York city. The rest of the cylinders
mostly tapered at the top - a consequence of urban flight.

But my very favourite of all, the piece I decided to vote for the minute I saw it, was Origami, which was origami, but with a twist. Origami paper squares were stuck on the wall, with the edges ever so slightly wrinkled and frayed so that the shadows created distinct, detailed profiles. The light was set to fade on and off so you could see the shadow faces materialise on the wall. Fabulous!

Incredible detail - you could even see eyelashes and beards

We were told that the faces were all of Grand Rapids locals, which might have been a bit of pandering to local sentiment. But who cares - it made it into the top ten, and if that touch of populism helped, so be it.

The final winners will be announced on Friday 5 October - but even if Origami doesn't win, WE know who really deserves first prize. You can see the short listed entries and all the rest of the 1517 entries on the ArtPrize website.