A well ARTiculated response from ArtPrize…

Check out the great response/comment  from Art Prize to an earlier post.  I think they really answered a few questions and, perhaps, offered up a few more.  (A note in my own defence: I never referred to the citizens of GR as “unlearned brutes”)

From Kevin Buist :


You’ve raised some good concerns here, I’m happy to see the discussion around the event picking up steam. My role with ArtPrize is helping artists get involved, so I’ll throw in my two cents about the issues you’ve raised.

As to the question of how this is all supposed to work, artists should think of the profiles they create during registration as an open-ended proposal. Include any information, text, and images you’d normally use to impress a curator or jury. That profile will be what venues are able to look at as they search for which artists they’d like to show. I know what you’re thinking, impressing a curator is very different from impressing the owner of a laundromat who has decided to make his space a venue. This is true, but it’s important to keep in mind that our biggest flagship venues are be managed by art and educational institutions with decades of international curatorial experience.

ArtPrize is not an “un-prize” in any way. It’s not a referendum on the practices of the established art world. Rather, it’s a chance for those practices to find a new context and reach a new audience. The vote, more than anything, is a way to engage the public. People who really hate contemporary art still won’t come, but for those on the fence, being told that their opinion matters is a great way to engage them, and hopefully expand their idea of what art can be. A lot of the best art exists within a constantly evolving historical context. We’re hoping ArtPrize engages the public in a way that lets artists, critics, and curators communicate what that context is, and how specific work functions within it. To encourage this, we’re going to be scheduling and tracking events within the event: gallery talks, slide lectures, critics’ talks, engagements with local universities, and anything else people can think of to foster dialog.

Could this just be a way to promote the lowest common denominator in taste? I suppose anything is possible when you open it up to a public vote (which is part of what makes this whole thing so interesting). But I wouldn’t be so quick to write off the citizens of Grand Rapids as unlearned brutes. La Grand Vitesse, the Calder stabile appropriated in our logo, was the first project of its kind funded by the NEA in 1969. In 1973 Grand Rapids hosted Sculpture Off the Pedestal, a city-wide exhibition of internationally renowned sculptors of the day, including Robert Morris and Mark di Suvero. We just opened the world’s first LEED certified art museum. West Michigan is the home of Herman Miller and a world renowned center for furniture design. There are countless artists and art students, a thriving independent music scene, and frequent gallery hops where the streets are literally clogged with people. I could go on and on.

The point is that we know this is weird. We know it’s an experiment. We want to start a dialog and a debate, it’s healthy. If you think contemporary art needs to stay in the white-walled safety of its institutions, that’s fine. Now is the time to make your argument.


7 Replies to “A well ARTiculated response from ArtPrize…”

  1. Susan,
    Thanks for sharing the debate. What drives me nutty about Kevin Buist and ArtPrize is the amount of double speak that keeps pouring out. We were encourage to log on to the Towm Hall Meeting where we’d be able to ask question. Only to find out it wasn’t really a Town Hall Meeting and no public questions were asked or answered online. Just edited versions sent in.
    Kevin keeps telling us is in no way a ” unprize” or a referendum against the practices of the established art world. Yet he uses phrases like “white-walled safety of its institutions” as if the new GRAM is an institution to be argued with?
    And let’s not forget that what Kevin brags about, the pride of GR, The Calder, was hated and protested against for years. Their is no denying that GR has it’s share of wonderful progressive people. But the reality is that it is a extremely conservative area and The Devos Foundation that is funding the prize, is a ultra conservative organization. I just can’t help but wonder if a gay artists who gets every Gay and Lesbian person he can to vote for him because he says he will donate the check to the Gay and Lesbian Marriage Initiative in Michigan will even get the check is he wins?

    1. Thanks Richard,
      Double speak is great way to describe some of what I have been hearing out there! There are some very divisive arguements on both sides of the event and to be a part of the dialogue is a bit of a thrill. I will be honest here, I have a limited education in the background of the funders-I only know what I hear from other folks and without knowing or hearing from the other side I will try to stay out of that sticky wicket.

      I am sure they have their best spin doctors out there typing away trying to put out all the little flash fires that are cropping up ie. an uncontroversial Calder or the ‘white box’ criticisms. Perhaps it is selective memory–either way look at the dialogue that is happening in the sleepy little burgs all around GR!

    2. Richard,

      I’m not arguing with GRAM, they’re an official ArtPrize venue. And they’re going to curate their space with the same professional rigor they bring to everything they do. I can’t wait to see what they present.

      This event will give established institutions like GRAM and UICA a chance to engage the public in a new way. And both of those institutions, along with others, have happily taken up the challenge because they realize that the mission of ArtPrize syncs with their own missions, to enrich the community through a dialog with art. I don’t see how challenging artists and institutions to operate in a new context is double speak.

      I sense that the double speak allegation is coming from the fact that you’ve done your homework and you know that the DeVos family supports some politically and socially conservative causes. ArtPrize does not have a political agenda. If it did, I wouldn’t work for it.

      If you’re really worried about double speak and evil agendas, do more homework. Google me. I am not a spin doctor. I am an artist and a citizen of Grand Rapids. I also happen to be a liberal. And, most importantly, I do not work for or advocate anything I don’t believe in. If your political beliefs implore you to shun any institution with ties to conservative donors, you shouldn’t visit the GRAM, or the Meijer Gardens, or the UICA, or Grand Rapids Public Museum, or any art spaces downtown that were developed by Dwelling Place, or any concerts, art shows, lectures, or events put on by GVSU, Calvin, or GRCC. My point is that you have a choice. You can either rant about an imaginary political cabal, or you can judge institutions for what they are, supporting or protesting them based on what they’re actually doing for the community.

      1. Kevin my kudos go out to you for laying it out there. I am sure you have addressed some items that are pivotal in some folks reaction to ArtPrze. It is unfortunate that personal politics and personal prejudices become stumbling blocks. As far as I am concerned it doesn’t matter who is running(or underwriting) the show, ultimately it is the integrity of the final outcome that matters. I may continue to raise questions, but my support is still behind ArtPrize and may art prevail…

  2. Kevin,

    My double speak allegations were leveled at ArtPrize when you said ….
    “ArtPrize is not an “un-prize” in any way. It’s not a referendum on the practices of the established art world.”

    Yet the ArtPrize website has nunerous quotes that easily lead people to believe that this is in fact some type of referendum.

    “ArtPrize is a radically open competition”.

    Is it? Artprize is still juried by the venue owner. So is ArtPrize suggesting that being juried into a competition by someone outside of the curatorial world is somehow a better way? I know your going to reply that UICA and GRAM and other independent curators will be jurying venues. But you don’t clearly promote that when you say Artprize is “Open to any artist in the world who can find space. ArtPrize does very little to distinguish between curatorial spaces and non.

    (And while we are clarifying things to artists, maybe you shouldn’t say GRAM is offering their “space” as if they are offering the whole museum space.)

    And then on your blog ArtPrize states…

    “Certainly, for Andrew Keen and other critics who say the mob rule of new media is destroying culture, this must just represent another crumbling piliar of our civilization. But it will be fascinating to see how the public’s tastes differ from those of the aesthetes, and it’ll probably inspire more public interest in art.”

    What the heck is behind that snarky comment? Does ArtPrize believe that someone that has a “special appreciation or knowledge of art and beauty” is someone outside and inapproachable of the mainstream? ArtPrize keeps referring to how fascinating, interesting and exciting it will be to see how the public will vote as compared to how a curator or critic or art professional would vote. You never really come out and say what it is you are implying by those repeated statements. But one can imply that you see it as some type of social importance, to put the power into the publics hands. What “need” is being unfulfilled that ArtPrize is attempting to rectify in it’s “social experiment”?

    “and it’ll probably inspire more public interest in art.”

    Isn’t there something really perverse about ArtPrizes notion that just because you are giving them the power to award all that prize money that that will inspire their interest to now look at art? Is what it takes to get people to look at art? And if that power, is in fact what it will take to get them to come out and look at art isn’t that a little sick?

    I do see you’ve changed the mission statement a bit on the web site. Thats a good step.

    “ArtPrize is not anti-jury, anti-curator, anti-establishment or anything else. We do not believe that we have contrived the “best” way to discover the “best” art. The prize money, the public vote, the open venue system simply creates an environment where public can engage artist and artist can engage public in a fresh way. To us, it’s an irresistible social experiment.”

    So on one hand you contend you don’t have the “best” way to discover the “best” art but you have organized “the worlds largest ArtPrize” with the largest 1st prize to be award to an individual artist. Is it just me or does anyone else in GR see the inconsistency in logic in that parallel? Why does the Devos Foundation want to fund a international art competition and not at least try, in some professional manner to award $250,000 to the best person that shows up? What are you going to call 1st Prize…”it’s not the best but it’s the most popular art in the show”?

    These are some of the issue that I notice about ARTPrize that make me draw a conclusion that either there is some double speak going on here or maybe you haven’t thought the idea through enough.

    And let me just something political and personal. To suggest that I am “ranting” by bringing up the topic that ArtPrize is funded by the ultra conservative Devos Foundation is, i believe, an unfair accusation. Most all professional artists live a life of independence and believe in social and political justice. It’s the foundation of a lot of contemporary work being made today. To suggest that the topic of who is funding this prize money is not a important topic for artists to consider, or to suggest, as you do, that to have the right to bring up this very real issue one has to be political correct is terribly simplistic and unfair. There is a big difference between going to visit the GRAM and accepting a check form Dick and Betsy Devos.
    And Kevin, I have to respectfully say this, if you truly are liberal, shame on you for going to work for a foundation who makes it an agenda to limit the personal rights of Gay and Lesbian people.

    1. Richard-
      If you are going to address Kevin directly and try to “shame”him, I suggest you do it somewhere else. This is meant to be a place for open dialogue not singling out an individual OR ranting about the DeVos foundation. ArtPrize may be underwritten by them but, by the nature of what has been stated by ArtPrize, they are not ultimately responsible for the outcome of the competition. Thank you for your comments but keep it about art.

  3. As far as I am concerned you can go ahead and remove my comments from your blog Susan. I take having a open dialogue
    about ArtPrize to mean being able to talk opening about issues including who is organizing and funding the event. Obviously I overestimated that would happen here.
    Thanks for you time.

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