As the artistic director for ArtPrize, Kevin Buist didn’t know what to expect 10 years ago when the public art exhibition with the world’s largest financial prize debuted in Grand Rapids.
Buist is in similar unknown territory this fall with the launch of Project 1 by ArtPrize.
The organization’s new vision of an interactive art exhibition is carefully curated with five intentionally selected artists who will launch the concept with their work at three sites in and near the city’s downtown.
“Project 1 flips ArtPrize on its head,” Buist said recently. “We’re taking our resources and investing them in a smaller number of commissioned pieces with no competition. ArtPrize was very experimental, and it became, and will continue to be, a great success.
“For Project 1, we had to be willing to make a shift to breathe new life into the community and ask new questions. The artists are crafting massive public and interactive pieces that couldn’t exist in a competition format. It’s an exciting step in continuing to make Grand Rapids the pre-eminent location for remarkable art in the fall.”
And Buist has no doubt that will be the case. The experience will be different, but it will be just as memorable for visitors, he believes.
“These are going to be big, beautiful projects that people will want to explore. They’ll want to photograph them,” Buist said. “This is serious art that has a ‘Gee, Whiz,’ factor. There’s still going to be a huge art exhibit, and I think people will understand and appreciate the change after they witness it.”
The evolution to a biennial structure, ArtPrize will return in 2020, also allowed the ArtPrize team to deepen the significance of art by creating a theme that serves as an inspiration for the pieces while also examining critical issues. Project 1 selected “Crossed Lines” to look at how boundaries, both visible and invisible, affect a sense of belonging that can unite or divide the city.
“Art can deal with difficult topics and reveal histories that are uncomfortable or contemporary practices that may not be widely known,” Buist said. “This is not prescriptive or didactic. We’re not looking for a particular outcome. Art is open to interpretation, and ultimately, we hope to expand people’s views about life and empower them to think critically.”
When is Project 1 being held?
The first Project 1 will run from Sept. 7 to Oct. 27, a much longer event than ArtPrize, which typically lasts about two weeks. Project 1 will still be a self-guided exploration, but there will be more event-based performances and programming around artists’ installations. The plan is to kickoff the opening weekend with a burst of activity at each site and then highlight one particular location per weekend in a rotation.
Where will the art be located?
There are three primary sites:
- Downtown Grand Rapids, which will feature a walkable experience with installations by four of the five commissioned artists. Exact locations of the art will be revealed shortly before the opening of Project 1.
- Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Southeast Grand Rapids, where one artist will locate a piece that visitors can walk and climb on, as well as venture inside. The piece will also be a stage for local music, dance and spoken word. Another artist will use the park’s community lodge as a centerpiece.
- Tanglefoot is a former flypaper manufacturing campus that is now home to urban artist studios, on the city’s near Southwest side. Here artists will build spaces for use by other artists and encourage audiences and performers to occupy a courtyard space at 314 Straight St. SW.
The artists and their Project 1 plans:
Amanda Browder: Browder creates large-scale, vibrant fabric installations and transforms building exteriors into multi-colored sculptures. The largest and most ambitious section of Kaleidoscopic will be draped over the exterior of a community center building in Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Southeast Grand Rapids. Browder will also wrap four skywalks which link buildings in the heart of downtown. The final section will cover the facade of a building at the Tanglefoot site on the southwest side of the city.
Heather Hart: Hart creates submerged rooftops, complete with shingles and dormer windows, that look like they were dropped from the sky. The rooftops refer to home, stability or shelter. Hart speaks about the rooftops as thresholds between public and private space. Combined with family and oral histories, and activated by performance, her work explores the power these thresholds have in our lives. Hart will create The Oracle of the Soulmates — twin rooftop sculptures, one in the center of Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids, the other on the lawn in MLK Park. Climb on the rooftops and venture inside the attics.
Olalekan Jeyifous: Jeyifous’ work in public art and installation explores the past and potential futures of urban environments. He will create The Boom and the Bust — a sculpture referencing the historic and contemporary challenges of housing discrimination and the inequities of urban life. This abstracted multi-story building form will rise 25-feet from the ground at the corner of Louis Street and Monroe Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids. The sculpture arises from the artist’s research into the recent history of housing in Grand Rapids. By combining references to skyscrapers and single-family houses, it juxtaposes massive downtown development alongside foreclosure and displacement.
Paul Amenta and Ted Lott: Amenta and Lott, known for their history of wide-ranging collaborative artistic productions with SiTE:LAB, will present Critical Infrastructure — a site-specific architectural intervention at the landmarkTanglefoot Building. In collaboration with DisArt, an arts and culture organization that focuses on creating public art events that cultivate and communicate a disabled culture, the intervention will create an environment that addresses issues of accessibility in both form and function. The project will reimagine the site by temporarily transforming a private space into a fully accessible public space, through a series of ramps and landings which welcome visitors and a wide variety of performances and interventions by other artists.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Lozano-Hemmer develops interactive installations that live at the intersection of architecture and performance art. He will create a new site-specific installation called Voice Bridge. Along the handrails of Grand Rapids’ iconic Blue Bridge — a pedestrian bridge which connects the East and West sides ofdowntown over the Grand River — you’ll find speakers and 400 lights that shine on the footpath of the bridge. You’ll control the intensity of each light by speaking into the intercoms at each end of the bridge and recording a message. Once recorded, your message will play back as a loop — jumping from speaker to speaker across the bridge as more messages are recorded.
What is the expectation?
Project 1 leaders believe the installation sites will have contrasting experiences, ephemeral but enduring. Visiting while the location is activated with planned performances will be different than when guests return and challenge themselves to see the art in another light.
“There will be moments that if you miss them, you’ll miss them and the interactivity can’t be recreated,” Buist said. “We think that will draw audiences and excite and inspire the visitors to gather together. And then people will want to go and get another unique look at the installations.
“People will be surprised and challenged and engaged, but, yeah, it’s a bit of an unknown right now. That’s a fine place for us to be in because we want to see the reaction to something that, again, is totally new.”