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Free Radical showcases local art and Heartside venues

Free Radical brings local artists and Heartside venues into an eclectic mix.
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Free Radical 2nd night

Friday, November 2, 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Event details on Facebook

Free Radical venues along Division

Free Radical venues along Division /Matt Plescher

Free Radical is an art show which not only showcases some of the diverse Grand Rapids art community, but is also a way to explore some incredible spaces and businesses in the Heartside district. The first showing was Friday, October 26, but there is another chance to go next Friday, November 2.

Free Radical is coordinated by Dwelling Place, an organization committed to providing housing and support to low-income residents of downtown Grand Rapids, and revitalization to neglected neighborhoods and business districts. The venues are all in these kinds of spaces—rough, finished or somewhere in between. Often museums and galleries can have a sterile feel, but the spaces along Division are raw and unassuming, providing a very approachable atmosphere for the artwork. Most of the venues are not overly curated, which is a feature the event shares with ArtPrize—including a broader community of artists even at the risk of having work that may be below the standards of some gallerists and museum curators.

The art community participating in Free Radical is diverse. There is a lot of art and it is very eclectic, with a myriad of styles and influences. Much of the work shows a refreshing unawareness of or even resistance to mainstream contemporary art trends.

There are many pieces from area artists working in the Lowbrow/underground art movement. These works are inspired by tattoo art and culture, underground comix, retro icons, zombie movies, and a plethora of other sources. Lowbrow art challenges many art world conventions, especially with its interest in narrative and high regard for technical skill. It also has a sense of humor, and doesn’t take itself overly seriously.

Other work at Free Radical has an outsider art feel. By definition outsider or visionary art is produced by artists who are generally self taught and uninfluenced by art trends. I did find myself wondering at times if some of the work was that of a loner visionary, or from an artist trying to imitate what people think outsider art should look like. Of course, it’s debatable whether it even matters if the work is “genuine outsider art.”

Another group of artists is working in a contemporary craft tradition. Like the Lowbrow movement, these artists also have an uneasy relationship with the art world. Artists working in these traditions can choose to let their work stand on its own, but others (including a few at Free Radical) push into the hazy and poorly defined boundaries between craft and fine art. This often results in interesting challenges to our definitions of art.

There is also work at Free Radical which is art world and art school influenced. Often these works require the viewer to decode an artist statement or some sort of description in order to engage the work. Some of these descriptions can be nearly incomprehensible, which may or may not be the intent of the artist. When it does work, these more conceptually oriented works can communicate ideas in a way that is stronger than visual or words alone. However, since so much conceptual ground has been covered over the years it can be difficult to produce work that is fresh and doesn’t come off as academic.

The second night of the event runs from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. on November 2. This night promises to be even more engaging, with artist talks, photographs, video, and responses from individuals who have been documenting each venue. Be sure to go down and explore both the art and the Heartside venues.

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