Thursday, October 4, 2012

ArtPrize 2012 Top 10 Thoughts

"Song of Lift" at UICA
It’s interesting to hear the various criteria that people use to determine their final vote in ArtPrize. Throughout the event, people seem to vote liberally (carelessly?), but once the Top 10 are announced, things get real. And more thoughtful. 

Here’s what I look at: the potential of the artists. What have they done before and what will they do next? Sure, I am looking at what is being presented in this competition, but what would the artists do in a different context? When torn between entries, this can be the deciding factor. 

Voting closes tonight, so here are my impressions of the Top 10 finalists (in alpha order). 

“The Chase” 
Being from Michigan and from a family of hunters (but not of wolves and moose!), I have seen many a taxidermy specimen casually displayed in homes and businesses. This piece feels like it has more in common with those than how we see taxidermy being used in contemporary art — maybe it’s the cheesy oak pedestal or lack of deeper message. I could see my grandma quilting next to this piece before I could see it in a gallery/museum outside of ArtPrize. 

What if Sarah Palin were poised above this scene in a helicopter with a rifle? That might sway me.

“City Band”  
Well, it’s really large and skillfully drawn. I feel that LaPorte tried to make this more interesting than his somewhat similar piece that won ArtPrize 2010 — some psychologically disturbing elements were incorporated into this otherwise straight-from-a-photograph drawing (but you had to work to find them, they seemed … too subtle?). 

The Critical Discourse panel said, “How is this better than a photograph?” and “I wanted something more,” and I agree. 

PS: My household version of Critical Discourse led to a fierce debate about this piece. My boyfriend insists that there is a theme in LaPorte’s work — dehumanization, conformity and/or lack of individualism. Interesting, but this seems to contradict the artist’s description of what he’s doing. Even if that message were there, wouldn’t it be more relevant if the scenes were current? 

Delightful. From far away you get a tangle of fleshy, life-sized elephants, and up close you find scores of animals (including humans) doing strange and funny things. The artist plays with scale — some creatures are way out of proportion — anthropomorphism (e.g., monkeys with facial piercings), and fun surreal elements. 
Detail from "Garden of Earthly Delights"

 I couldn’t help but think of Hieronymus Bosch (“The Garden of Earthly Delights”) and was excited to see his painting used as a comparison during Critical Discourse. In addition to having weird and intricate details, both pieces are triptychs (3 sections). In “Elephants’” case, there doesn’t appear to be a narrative behind each section, but she has continued the drawing onto the wall between and around the three sections, adding to it daily. 

Some compare this to “City Band” because of scale/materials, but the similarity ends there. This is drawn with nice line sensitivity that suits the playfulness of the subjects, while “City Band” is repetitious and uniform (in technique and composition). I would like to see what’s next from this artist. 

“Life in Wood”  
Missed this while dashing through the B.O.B. parking lot madness. A friend said it was his favorite piece, so I do hope to get my hands on it (you can touch it!). Based on photos only, my impression is that the artist clearly focused on detail and craftsmanship, but the piece could’ve benefited from a better overall composition. (True of many ArtPrize entries.) 

“Lights in the Night”  
20,000 lanterns launched into the night sky of downtown GR (full moon included!). I was not able to attend, but photos/videos show that it was incredibly beautiful. Many people argue that this entry is not art because it’s not permanent. That’s silly. Not all art is permanent or tangible and sometimes impermanence is part of the experience, even with more “object-based” works. 

However, as lovely as the event was, and as cool as it is to have a time-based piece in the Top 10, I was turned off by the marketing that accompanied this entry. 

This was neat to view, especially seeing it change as the light source faded in and out. I can’t help but wonder how many trials/errors the artist went through to get the perfect shadow (including details as tiny as individual eyelashes). But looking at her other works, I was more impressed by her strong sense of design and texture than the cleverness of this piece. Another artist I’ll keep an eye on. 

“Rebirth of Spring”  
Many are comparing this to Thomas Kinkaid paintings — Hey, that’s not very nice! This isn’t so candy-like as ol’ TK, and there are no cottages on fire. (By the way, I’ve never seen a real Kinkaid painting in person — has anyone?) I did get a tiny sense of serenity and escapism when seeing this in person, for what that’s worth, and it’s painstakingly and well painted. The end. 

“Song of Lift”  
My favorite of the Top 10. I can’t describe it better than what has been said here:

“[T]he manipulation takes place on various levels. First, the dramatic symphonic music magnetizes you to the piece before you even see it. … The piece swallows up your senses as your vision is consumed by a sea of birdlike forms suspended from a churning carousel, and you feel the breeze of their flapping wings.” 

 “The longer you look,” Frieman commented, “the more complicated it gets. It’s a wicked little piece.” Part of this wickedness is due to the fact that the piece is activated once a viewer puts a quarter in a coin machine. … Frieman immediately recognized the music as Gorecki’s Symphony Number 3, a post-holocaust piece referred to as the “Song of Sorrowful Songs.” This reference to loss, Freiman astutely pointed out, is mirrored in the viewers’ experience once the piece comes to an end and viewers are left standing together in silence. Until someone breaks out clapping. As magical as the experience is, it makes no bones about its crude machinations. Simple motors [and] thin plastic sheets comprise the birds’ forms, while the animating force is laid bare in strewn power cords and the carousels’ exposed, even lit motor. 

I feel like this piece is manipulating us and wants us to know that it knows that. Wink. (Come on, coin-operated and spotlights that practically draw attention to its harness?) But that part is a bonus. 

Driftwood horses running against the current of the Grand River is a pretty sight, for sure, and I’m glad it’s there. But see Deborah Butterfield. 

“Return to Eden” 
Haven’t seen in person. I like the idea of people leaving civilization and returning to nature, but is that what’s happening? It seems to be taking place in the suburbs. The Biblical reference confuses me. No snakes to be found. Hmm… and, uh… Oh, look at the time!

Overall, most of these were not my favorite pieces in the show. More on that later…