Boca Raton Museum of Art
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Thursday, September 24, 2009
ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Mich. turns city upside-down

After months of anticipation and preparation, ArtPrize, a citywide art competition in Grand Rapids, Mich., opened its polls on Sept. 23. The colossal undertaking includes 1,262 pieces of art displayed in 159 venues around the city, including restaurants, storefronts, vacant warehouses, parking lots, pedestrian bridges and parks.  

Unlike a juried art competition, ArtPrize - a new endeavor for the city - is entirely democratic. Entry was open to all, provided an artist could secure a Grand Rapids venue, and the winners (who receive generous cash awards) will be chosen by popular crowd vote. And, yeah, ArtPrize has drawn plenty of comparisons to American Idol.

The competition drew entries from around the world, with the heaviest concentration naturally coming from Michigan. I've been casually monitoring the contest's progression since its announcement early this spring and a cursory glance reveals that quite a few Florida residents are participating in the competition, including Liesa Robarge of Big Pine Key, Robert Lebron of Viera and Eric Elliot of Naples, among others.

Full disclosure: I first heard about ArtPrize because I lived in Grand Rapids for six years before moving to South Florida this past January. The project interests me, in part, because it has utterly transformed and overtaken my former hometown, but primarily because it has started a massive conversation about art.

It's also worth noting - in light of Kelli Bodle's recent Perspectives entry about the decline in mainstream and traditional resources for arts journalism - that ArtPrize and art have consistently made headlines in West Michigan in the months leading up to the implementation of this project. Does this coverage focus more on the "hype," than scholarly critique? Sure. But how else would a (mostly) positive story about the state-of-the-arts get such press coverage?

Without seeing the execution of ArtPrize in person, it's difficult, if not impossible, to formulate a fair and accurate judgment of the success of the event or of the overall quality of the entries. Regardless, one can certainly contemplate the larger, more universal questions raised by the project, such as: 

What qualifies someone to be an artist? What constitutes art?

Is the general public capable of choosing "the best" entry from the hundreds of options?

Does such a contest - in which voters can cast votes via Twitter and the like - cheapen art, or does it serve to heighten the importance of art in everyday life?

I can see why the event has attracted some naysayers, but it's hard to look down on something that has the power to motivate lots of people to create, look at, experience, talk about and think about art. Granted, the quality of the individual entries might be all over the place, but would people's time be better spent at home, with the latest episode of Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami instead of exploring a city and viewing lots of art?    

What are your thoughts on an open art competition of this nature? Please feel free to leave comments below. We're especially curious to hear what artists have to say about ArtPrize and the notion of voting for the "best" piece.

More information:

Watch a video of last minute preparations for ArtPrize

An easily digested, firsthand synopsis of the event

Scenes from ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Mich. Both images belong to Plounsbury. Use of these photographs does not, in any way, constitute an endoresment by the artist, who retains full rights of these images.

Posted by: Tricia Woolfenden @ 2:15:25 pm  Comments (8)
Friday, September 18, 2009
Don't kill the messenger

As Jonah Weiner of Slate Magazine notes, we've seen a sharp decrease in journalism dedicated to arts criticism, of the non-blogging variety. Mr. Weiner writes specifically about why music mags are fading from view, which, I sheepishly admit, I hadn't really noticed. Like many others, I let my subscriptions to Spin and Rolling Stone lapse, content to pay the stand price if I saw a particularly interesting story advertised on the front cover. The folding of Vibe and Blender are echoes of the larger state of arts journalism as a whole; musical, visual and otherwise. 

Which is why The National Arts Journalism Summit is so important.

On October 2, art writers from around the world will meet at UCLA to develop new and sustainable models of arts journalism. New business models and innovative practices will be presented and explained so that the writing community as a whole may review and consider implementing them. This is the first time that the Summit will meet and I have high hopes for the results. It gives me great pleasure to see those in the arts community banding together to keep a very necessary part of the art world - reflection and writing about current events and practices - alive. 

One of my very favorite writers, András Szántó, who until recently led the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University, wrote an article for the Art Newspaper called, "With Newspapers in Terminal Decline, What Future for Arts Journalism?"

He very succinctly outlines some exciting options for the future of arts journalism and ends his incisive essay with this:

                Amid the gloom and doom about arts journalism, innovations offer a glimmer of hope.

                There is no going back to the cultural and advertising dominance that newspapers once

                enjoyed.  We should be mindful that the emerging landscape offers asymmetrical

                odds for art criticism (which can survive by the labour of individual writers) and

                arts reporting (which requires institutional firepower and protections).  Writers

                will struggle to reclaim the access and influence they achieved with the backing of

                prestigious journalism brands.  Even so, the faint outlines of a new system are starting

                to emerge.

While I will mourn the slow death of the printed word, I look forward to the future of the pixilated one. 


Posted by: Kelli Bodle @ 9:39:05 am  Comments (1)
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Inside the artists' mind

One of the bonuses of working at, or being involved with, an art institution, is the opportunity to meet artists and talk to them about motivation, technique and inspiration - ideally without resorting to the dreaded "But what does it all mean?"

When the Boca Raton Museum of Art hosts exhibition openings for living artists, we often are privileged with the presence of those artists at the Member and Patron receptions. This gives the Museum Members, guests and staff a chance to gain a deeper understanding of the artists' works and to put a face with the work, so to speak.

Two of the three featured artists - photographer Stephen Althouse and painter Gary T. Erbe - attended the September opening reception for the Museum's fall exhibitions. Clyde Butcher, a renowned, Florida-based landscape photographer, was hosting his annual swamp walk that night and was unable to attend the opening reception. He will, however, visit the Museum on October 3 for a seminar and book-signing.  

The day after the opening reception, Althouse and Erbe returned to the Museum for a morning talk with Museum docents. These docent tours provide "inside information" for Museum docents, who in turn, pass along the knowledge to Museum guests.


(L-R: Photographer Stephen Althouse talks to Museum Docents; painter Gary T. Erbe during a morning Docent tour)

Below are a few notes from the docent tours:

Stephen Althouse: Tools and Shrouds

Althouse discussed the large black-and-white images of Stephen Althouse: Tools and Shrouds. The images are stunning, stark compositions of cold steel implements juxtaposed with textured cloth. In explanation of his work, Althouse  emphasized that he doesn't strive to assign "religious dogma, story or social commentary" to his photographs, but concedes that the viewer might ascribe such a meaning based upon his or her own interpretations.

Althouse also said of the images that "(they are) contrived and controlled work...(They represent) personal thoughts and emotions, expressed in a private way." Althouse said there is "no real overt story or message for these photographs."

A close look at some of the pieces in Tools and Shrouds reveals subtle details such as a Braille inscription on the handle of a tool. Althouse declined to give the translation for the letters, as well as a translation of a German inscription on another photograph, saying that the revelation of such literary details is very nearly always a disappointment to the viewer. Althouse chooses to protect "the power and mystery of not knowing" the literal translations of symbols within a work.

Erbe, who attended Althouse's tour with the docents, said of Althouse's technique; "it elevates (the works) to Abstract."

Painter Gary T. Erbe comments during Stephen Althouse's docent tour.

Gary T. Erbe: Forty-Year Retrospective

After Althouse's presentation, the docents and various Museum staff were treated to a tour with Erbe, a self-taught artist who initially had an exhibition at the Museum when it was at its original location on Palmetto Park (now the site of the Art School of the Boca Raton Museum of Art).

Erbe is known for his trompe l'oeil paintings of pop culture artifacts and assemblages. He taught himself how to paint at a young age, by looking at his work, analyzing it and seeing what could be improved. After four years of honing his craft, he became self-employed as a painter.

Early in his career, Erbe developed his own method of painting, which he dubbed "levitational realism." The style "removes objects from their settings" to create a new idea. Erbe had great success with this unique style.

The artist also shared the story of his first significant sale to a collector. Erbe was stationed at an outdoor art show. At literally the eleventh hour of the show, Erbe was approached - as he said, "on the street" - by a collector, who bought a painting for $4000, a somewhat arbitrary figure that Erbe plucked from the air. The collector, clearly a fan of Erbe, bought the painting and approximately 40 more throughout the years. Erbe incidentally never again worked at an outdoor art show.    

As we move along in the 2009-2010 season, we are anticipating more educational events with artists, such as Clyde Butcher and Enrique Martinez Celaya, whose exhibition will be unveiled on November 17, 2009.

What artist(s) living or dead, would you want to listen to talk about his or her art? What kinds of questions would you ask?   


Posted by: Tricia Woolfenden @ 3:02:38 pm  Comments (2)
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