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Art within Art: ArtPrize in Local Bars and Coffee Shops

The venues of HopCat, McFadden’s, and MadCap complement the ArtPrize entries showcased there
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ArtPrize Pieces Showcased at HopCat, McFadden's, and MadCap



"Dispersion I" by Amanda Brown

"Menstruation" by Ruth Andrews

"Dope" by David Dodde

Nostalgic Exuberance" by Katie Swanson

"ICARUS" by Martin Thomas Smyczek II

"Diphyletic" by Michael Dura


McFadden's Restaurant & Saloon

"Persistence" by Joe Simon

"Fourth Night" by Erik Holladay

"ELEVEN" by Delae C. Noctra

"A Walk Around the Planet" by Matthew Leonard

"To Be Accustomed" Sinisa Nedelkoski 

"Bodies in Space" by Nathan Hoste

"Wrong Side of the Tracks" by Les Katt


MadCap Coffee Company

"Perspective Lifters" by the Beerhorst family

"Perspective Lifters" by the Beerhorst Family showcased at MadCap during ArtPrize 2012.

"Perspective Lifters" by the Beerhorst Family showcased at MadCap during ArtPrize 2012. /Erik Tank

MadCap Coffee Company.

MadCap Coffee Company. /Richard Deming Photography

"Big Astronomical Bean Bag" displayed at The B.O.B. during ArtPrize 2011.

"Big Astronomical Bean Bag" displayed at The B.O.B. during ArtPrize 2011. /Jessie Miller

At HopCat, a waiter in a beanie sporting a beard-in-progress will sit at the table with you while you attempt to choose a local beer from the selection of nearly 100. If you ask him about the Key Lime Pie beer, he'll say, “You can even taste the graham cracker.” HopCat boasts made of red brick walls and expansive picnic-esque tables that forcibly bring people together. The scene is loud and if you tilt your head up, there are portraits of monkeys on the ceiling.

HopCat is the epitome of the hipster culture surging in Grand Rapids; however, it is not the only one. Bars and coffee shops such as McFadden’s Restaurant & Saloon and MadCap Coffee Company have joined in on this culture, and though they each attract a slightly different crowd, they all share in the new identity of the city—a gregarious, vibrant culture, with passion for art, music, and, well, art. This year in ArtPrize, the artists at these venues are swept up into their culture — which is quite different from the crowd at The B.O.B., which typically attracts flashy works of art such as the “Big Astronomical Bean Bag” (an enormous orange bean bag now featured in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest in the world) of last year’s ArtPrize. Even though many of the artists have no prior knowledge of the Grand Rapids culture, they have produced art that embodies the essence of their venues. Many of them are unaware of this dynamic, which only goes to prove that eclectic art forms attract eclectic venues. And vice versa.

HopCat is like folk singer packaged in brick and wood. The bar is much like a worn-down performance theater with velvet and leather and bright, flashing chandeliers, but without all the glam; it’s stripped down, it’s earthy, and it’s fun.

One of six artists displayed at HopCat is Amanda Brown, a first time participant in ArtPrize from Essexville, Mich. Her piece is entitled “Dispersion I.” It uses a drizzle technique, meaning she never actually touches the paintbrush to the canvas, but instead drizzles the black acrylic paint into shapes and forms -- of crowds -- which are part deliberate and part accidental.  “My work feels best to me in a place that has character. It is busy and rhythmic, and I like that to carry over into the actual space in which it is hung,” the artist says.

Some of her forms look like bulging blobs, whereas others have clear human attributes, such as a striped shirt or an oversized beach hat. Brown’s piece is a fusion of distinct and blurred forms, much like the feeling of being in a crowded place—it’s exhilarating and overwhelming all at once. Like her work, HopCat is consistently busy, whether it’s a Sunday afternoon or a Friday night. There is a hum of life and activity, filling the place with a calm energy.

 “I like the venue for my piece because I feel like it has a look and energy that plays off the historic brick walls and bustling feel of Hopcat. [My piece’s] subject matter is crowds, and the Saturday night I experienced at HopCat mirrored the subject well—a painting of a crowd hung in a crowd,” Brown says.

After the relaxing HopCat, the feel of McFadden’s is quite the opposite. It’s just as loud and just as much a representation of Grand Rapids culture, but it has its own unique feel. With the tiered-level seating and fully-stocked bars in either corner, McFadden’s attracts the college crowd. In the late hours, the Irish pub is dark and the bass pumps so loud you feel it in your chest. You might as well learn sign language to order a drink.

However, during ArtPrize, areas of the bar are illuminated to feature prominent works of art. One piece, called "Fourth Night," created by Erik Holladay, a photographer from Kalamazoo, Mich., comprises a group of photographs that capture fireworks from various angles. One of the pictures in the series features just the edge of a firework as its bright lights burn low in the black sky, which somewhat resembles the gleam of a jellyfish’s tentacle in the depths of the ocean. Similar to Brown, Holladay’s artwork seems to be in line with the venue. “[McFadden’s] is a bar full of energy, and my photographs are fireworks full of energy. It’s perfect,” Holladay says. 

The exploding light in his images draws upon the enthusiasm that captures our hearts on the fourth of July; we are mesmerized and captivated by these rainbow-colored sparks of light that burst and then dissipate in the sky. His images are spontaneous and unaltered; he does not use Photoshop on them.

On a nearby brick wall in McFadden’s hangs another equally avant-garde piece that examines what would happen to a body exposed to outer space. The artist, Nathan Hoste, from Metro Detroit, Mich., created a series of paintings called "Bodies in Space," in which each painting depicts one symptom of space exposure—radiation, sunburn, bruising, and loss of body heat—that contradicts the explosions and combustion we have come to expect after seeing all those science fiction movies.

McFadden’s serves as an artistic addition to his piece, exemplifying it in a way. “I have an awesome brick wall behind my work that compliments the silver frames and science subjects very well,” he said. “[My work is] very close to the beaten path and right between the bar and the window, perfect.”

The ambiance of the surroundings in McFadden’s provides a celestial aura for Hoste’s work. The indoor night-time feel provides a subtle complement to the dark red, purple, and blue hues used to portray space in the background of his work.

When you leave McFadden’s, the sky above won’t shine as brightly as Hoste’s work, but the Grand Rapids night is vibrant in its own way—people dressed in plaid and beige work boots, miniskirts and heels, business suits and ties, or button downs and floral scarves, all walk around searching for their own niche in this city. Most of them hop between the bars and coffee shops this city has to offer, and some might even hit up MadCap, HopCat, and McFadden’s all in one night.

MadCap, another ArtPrize venue, is a local coffee shop established in 2008. Located at the corner of Monroe Center Street, the midsize building with high arching windows above and expansive windows on the ground floor resembles the old-world feel of the outside of the Drake in Chicago. It stands as a work of art in its own right. Inside, the white-washed walls are modern and minimalist, and the brick behind the counter is warm. This coffee shop is different than Starbucks or Biggby. Its uniqueness that provides a free-form artistic space for the Beerhorst family, whose collection of works entitled “Perspective Lifters,” is displayed here.

The Beerhorsts, a family of unconventional artists spearheaded by parents Rick and Brenda Beerhorst, designed “Perspective Lifters” specifically to be showcased at MadCap; the bright, clear light and the high ceilings were the draw for them, Brenda Beerhorst says. “Our work was made with the space in mind. We created the work to engage the viewer to look up. We wanted to take full advantage of the height and light of the space.” Each family member created a separate piece that revolved around the symbols of houses and ladders. One piece, comprised of black and white houses, is strung from the ceiling on translucent wiring, and each of the houses is hung at different heights. Another work by the Beerhorst family was done on canvas and contains several ladders tilted to the center, all while balancing multi-leveled houses on top.  

“Houses can symbolize home and community, and the ladders can represent seeing things from a different perspective, a change of view,” Beerhorst adds. “The ladders can also symbolize a different level or reaching for something out of reach.”

Unlike several of the other participants in ArtPrize, the Beerhorst family lives in Grand Rapids. Though their collective pieces can be interpreted in several ways, Beerhorst says they can be read as a metaphor of the growth and change occurring in the city—a change in perspective.

This year in ArtPrize, the theme itself could be a change in perspective. The usually quiet city buzzes with activity; the restaurants waft newly crafted smells of sizzling steaks, sickeningly sweet chocolate-covered strawberries, grilled swordfish, and steaming baked potatoes; the citizens take to the streets to participate in this new, surging energy. And all the while, MadCap, HopCat and McFadden’s happily showcase their own perceptions of the local culture of Grand Rapids, proud to host artists who not only appreciate it, but whose art actually invigorates it.


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