Wednesday, September 29, 2010

ArtPrize Can Change You.

ArtPrize Can Change You.
Tommy Allen’s Top Ten Hopes
September 29, 2010
By Tommy Allen

My thirst for art springs from my interaction with it my entire life.

One key reason why I feel I am open to new ideas in my life is because of art. 

Some will say this is because I was able to travel to many places around the world, but I will counter by saying I have been able to discover brand new worlds right here in Grand Rapids that have rocked me to my core.

This is one reason why I love ArtPrize because parents can bring their children to an artful experience that can begin the same kind of journey I have experienced.

The work coming to Grand Rapids over the years and now for ArtPrize provide experiences leading to deeper conversations within the home unit as these new worlds appear at every turn of the street corner.

Some arrive with fanfare and can make noise, light up or even poop. 

But for most of the artwork at ArtPrize, it arrives quietly as the artist “sets up shop” on a vendor’s wall waiting for the conversations to begin.

So why would I venture to showcase the ten works of art that moved me at ArtPrize 2010?

Because I think they could move you, too?  Call it an epiphany but I think I am happiest when I don’t think about the prize and focus on the diversity of art that visits each year for this event.

So today’s list is not saying these are the best but these are ten examples of works with real power and depth of purpose that moved me. 

They are also works that have a certain truth in them for their rawness and presentation.

Again, I do not wish to say those in the running are not worthy but if you are advancing, a bit of humility should rule the day.  More than likely fate has placed you in a location where you have greatly benefited. 

Remember that Van Gogh’s body of work hung on a coffee shop wall and was a poor man when he died.  He as well adored the walls of a “capitalist” establishment for the enjoyment and benefit of others. (we can talk about the artist making money another day.)

As an artist of our community, it is my final wish that when the event is over, people will not only have adopted the technology to vote but they will have adopted a few works of art into their homes as well.

Tommy Allen’s Top Ten Hopes of ArtPrize 2010
(In no order of importance)

Lure/Wave, Grand Rapids (Lure/Forest) - Beili Liu
This work of art inspires me because of its simplicity of presentation and yet complex execution. I cannot think of another format more fitting to illustrate the ancient Chinese legend of the Red Thread, which beautifully illustrates our connectivity to all of our lives. 

Ice House Detroit – Gregory Holm
Detroit has been a part of my writings at over the years because I see incredible talent springing up from the scorched earth of a Midwest city. This modern day Roman ruin is actually a city with an incredible pulse and this piece illustrates the beauty encased within waiting to thaw.  This piece is a bit more challenging because the form it is based on has long since melted but not all art is meant to lasting so I like it.  This photo is a beautiful record of this moment in our time.

Street Pianos: Play Me, I'm Yours – Luke Jerram
This is my pure whimsy choice and mainly because the sound of a piano coming up from the streets is the thing of romance.  In the city, these interactive pieces activated by an individual’s touch can determine the soundtrack at any given moment for the area they are placed.  And if Street Pianos win, I love the thought of these instruments of old school social interaction on every corner of Grand Rapids.

Baldaquin – Mark Rumsey
I will admit I have been following this artist for some time and love the simplicity of his new work. It is what hooks me immediately every time.  What keeps me in the room is the mass and scale of the presentation where deeper probing of his work uncovers what would drive someone to labor away long hours on the same item.  In short, Mark’s work springs up from the influence of Eastern Art but with a modernist twist.

Detroit Forsaken – Ryan Spencer Reed
As you can guess I am drawn to works that illustrates or illuminate our contemporary life.  Art History is full of these kinds of cultural reflective examples ensconced in museum’s around the world, but rarely do we get to see the events up close and in real time -happening right before our eyes.  I am intrigued by Reed’s work because as a culture we are visually conditioned to the point of apathy by imagery of run down places “elsewhere” as seen in his work from Sudan. But when it happens this close to home and we view it like Reed has, it has the potential to shake us to our core.

Evaporative Buildings - Alex Schweder La
This one was easy to miss in the shuffling from space to space but if you paused long enough to see this work then you no doubt understand the sensory experience this time-based piece can create within the viewer. I could not help being reminded of the current housing crisis and the evaporative space many thought would be their home for a lifetime.

Plan B – Rick Beerhorst
I felt this piece, while irritating to most of those around me, provided much dialogue within me about my role on our planet.  And while the piece probably will not win, some of the subtle points this piece raises about our personal consumption make this work more personal than most others in ArtPrize. And while some will point out this experiment ultimately failed as they trace the extension cord to the stage that was supposed to be powered by pedaling bikes, the scale of this encampment is worth revisiting and imagining a post-oil world and what your Plan B is going to be. It might just change you’re A Game.

Untouchable - Wayne Belger
As someone who lost a person very close to me to AIDS in the 90s, Belger’s work painfully reminded me that this disease is still a reality in our world to so many people.  Art has the power not only to illuminate as evident in his portraits created with a very special pin hole camera, but the sheer clinical power of how things are structured or enshrined in this entry recreates the carefully structured barriers we create for those who are HIV+. And even with all my experience, when a friend of mine recently tested positive, it took me a while to overcome the fear of even simple contact that was freely exchanged before the revelation. It made me sad that I acted this way and this piece enshrines the loneliness of this experience for people with HIV.

Mural for Grand Rapids – Jeff Zimmerman
Ok, before you bring out the daggers, I want to say that like Young Kim’s work in 2009, Jeff spent a lot of time researching our community to create the imagery that would eventually become this mural. While murals were a big part of this year’s event, this one really captured my attention throughout the two months the artist and his assistants lived among us. I applaud those who spent time documenting this work. Most of all because of the democracy of technology to capture the stories of the people who are enshrined here, we now have a living record of those individuals.  What could have been just another marker of our people often told in urban settings with white dude in bronze or even a politically correct United Colors of Benetton cliché rendering has actually blossomed on the wall as a nice representation with just enough mystery. It will no doubt continue to grow on people of this city because it is rooted in inclusiveness.

Radiant Efflorescence – David Huang
Quite simply one of the most beautiful works to tap into every saying from every culture that below the surface within each of us is a hidden beauty. This work is like peering into the soul of another.

*Close Next was WaterPrize, This Is Not An Oil Spill, Truck Drawing, Surge, Cavalry, American Officers, 1921, Hope Chest and Wannabe CEOs

 Twitter: @TommyGSync



  1. I share many of your favorites - just say no to the big pig!

  2. To read more editorials by Tommy Allen, visit

  3. Tommy, I don't have the same warm feelings for Detroit that you do, but I share your enthusiasm for Ryan Spencer Reed's work. The photo of the partially demolished Tiger Stadium speaks volumes about Detroit and our throw away society. I also like the comparison to Roman ruins. However Roman architecture has lasted for centuries. Americans tear buildings down after a few decades.