Guide to GRAM’s ArtPrize Nine exhibits

"Past Perfect" by Jeana Eve Klein at GRAM.

ArtPrize Nine began on Wednesday and Grand Rapids Art Museum is eagerly anticipating the hundreds of thousands of visitors who will stream through its doors throughout the 19-day art competition.

Ron Platt, chief curator at GRAM, said 16 ArtPrize artists are on display at the venue this year. He said the work selected varies widely, particularly since the museum decided to forgo a uniting theme this year.

“There is no theme to our show this year, just good art and lots of it,” Platt said.

Platt said one of the goals GRAM had this year in making its selections was to “appeal to the diverse audience” that will tour the museum.

“I think kids and families will enjoy it,” he said, noting specifically “Enmesh” by Leroi DeRubertis as well as the “Rainbow Generator” by Edouard Steinhauer would likely be big hits.

“Enmesh” is a three-part installation created out of two-miles worth of wire that has been twisted into abstract figures of faces and hands. When prompted by air or vibration, the figures spin, along with their shadows creating a fun effect (the small hands wave).

Ron Platt, GRAM's chief curator discusses "Enmesh" ArtPrize entry.
Ron Platt, GRAM’s chief curator discusses “Enmesh” ArtPrize entry.

“Rainbow Generator” performs exactly as it’s titled: the mechanical piece generates rainbows when in operation.

Kids and adults alike will also likely be drawn to the work of ArtPrize Pitch Competition winner Chris Vitiello, also known as Poetry Fox, who has a gallery space to himself on the museum’s second floor and will be doling out one line poems from noon to 8 p.m. every day (noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday).

Vitiello referred to his entry as “an endurance piece,” noting he will essentially live in the museum throughout ArtPrize.

“This is a two room performance installation,” Vitiello said. “It’s called ‘The Language is Asleep.’ It really has two parts. I’m going to be in this room all day, kind of asleep and automatically writing in dictionaries, writing poems, tearing them out and dropping them. Or you can give me a word and I’ll write a poem with that word in it, tear it out and hand it to you. It will be a very interactive space.

Poetry Fox types out a poem for a GRAM visitor.
Poetry Fox types out a poem for a GRAM visitor.

“Visitors can take a poem off the floor and take it home with them. I’m hoping almost everyone who comes through this space over the course of ArtPrize is going to leave with one of these poems in their hands.”

While visiting the museum, make sure to check out the three Grand Rapids-based artists that landed prime space on the GRAM’s walls: Hwa-Jeen Na, Emily Mayo and Jordyn Fishman.

“They are all quite young and it’s exciting to give people opportunities to show their work in ArtPrize, in front of the hundreds of thousands (of people) coming through,” Platt said.

Na’s piece, “As Much Heaven As Earth,” is a series of portraits of queer men that came about as the result of his struggle to cope with the suicide of a childhood friend who struggled after coming out to his family.

Three portraits from "As Much Heaven As Earth" entry.
Three portraits from “As Much Heaven As Earth” by Hwa-Jeen Na

“ ‘As Much Heaven as Earth’ explores the life experiences of these men through their own words as they attempt to answer the question, ‘Why do we choose to stay?'” Na explained.

Mayo’s piece, “Kaphar,” is a life-size floating staircase sculpture made of burnt wood salvaged from house arsons in Flint, where she grew up. Mayo said she’d returned to Flint looking for nostalgia but was met with a landscape much different than she remembered.

“Originating from the homes of my childhood neighborhood, the materials represent a personal reflection while depicting the desired recovery of the city of Flint,” Mayo explained.

"Kaphar" by Emily Mayo.
“Kaphar” by Emily Mayo.

Fishman’s aptly named two-dimensional piece, “Income Inequality, Imagine,” explores just that. “It’s unequal opportunity that prevents us from finding unity,” Fishman explains in her artist statement.

“We all have to step back and look at what we’ve done. And I say ‘we’ cause it’s not one. This world runs on money and power. It starts at the home and where that’s at.”

Check out all 16 of GRAM’s ArtPrize exhibition from Sept. 20 – Oct. 8, and don’t forget to vote for your favorites.

"Income Inequality, Imagine," by Jordyn Fishman.
“Income Inequality, Imagine,” by Jordyn Fishman.
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