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Pieces, moments of Art.Downtown. 2013 leave strong impressions

After the one-night event, I review what lingered in the mind from this year's kick-off of Grand Rapids' art season.
"Wooded Escape" digital C-prints by Brent Klein-Horsman

"Wooded Escape" digital C-prints by Brent Klein-Horsman /Danielle Walsh

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Detail of painting by Steven Vinson

Detail of painting by Steven Vinson /Anthony Carpenter

Tom Duimstra, curator of "Camera and Collage" with his artwork

Tom Duimstra, curator of "Camera and Collage" with his artwork /Anthony Carpenter

Art.Downtown. is an important event for the arts commmunity. A lot of effort goes into this annual showcase, from the making of artwork to the planning and coordination of hundreds of people and details, culminating in the execution of a springtime display of art and performance across the downtown area.

It can be argued that the very nature of art hops, especially those of this scale and time constraint, predispose attendees to experience artwork quickly, within a social context, in crowded spaces and with aural distraction or enhancement (depending upon the source and your preference). These factors can make it difficult to find oneself alone with a work for any length of time, your body and thoughts un-jostled. With the variety of work presented, there is literally something for everyone, but it should be accepted from the outset that one will probably not be able to see everything.

Regardless, regret persists over places I didn't get to, such as the soon to open Lantern Coffee Bar and Lounge, WMCAT, and the Kendall MFA studios on Grandville Avenue, among many others. So the following is by no means culled from the entirety of the night's offerings or every place I visited, but consists of the strongest impressions of what I did experience.

Parliament the Boutique (120 S. Division)
This is the space of a new neighbor, Elyse Marie Welcher, and my first stop. I was very impressed by the transformation of this storefront within a mere 12 days. The combination of charming hosts, handcrafted wares beautifully displayed and delicious treats with miniature silverware was simply enchanting.

Sanctuary Gallery (140 S. Division)
My preference for viewing art leans towards a greater ratio of wall space to art. There exists a danger of becoming visually fatigued by trying to take in too much at once, no matter how fine the quality of individual pieces. I was quite pleased to be greeted by an entire wall repainted and dedicated to the Camera and Collage show, with each artist's works grouped together. Strong artwork, cleanly displayed.

Former Corazon Space (122 S. Division)
Steven Vinson's streetscape paintings immediately drew me closer to them. I first viewed his distinctive works at his MFA thesis show in Kendall two years ago and became an instant devotee. His paintings employ multiple panels, three-dimensional elements and both precise and loose brushstrokes. Combined, these elements work to convey the structure of what he's depicting in a really excellent way. I want to see more pieces from him in the future.

SiTE:LAB Workflow (54 Jefferson)
I have given up trying to separate my nostalgia for this former home of the Public Museum from my appreciation for works displayed within it. They are ultimately, inevitably entwined. Architecture creates an important framework, and the context of art, both physical and psychological, matters. Any Sitelab event is a social scene, and I somehow end up feeling like I'm back at school, watching the cool kids. DITA performed a graceful piece, and I marveled at the dancers' ability to do so with bare feet on a cold floor, while mine were chilled even in socks and boots. Dancers are tough. On the second floor a demonstration of 3-D printing was taking place, and it occurred to me that displays of new technology throughout the ages were most likely shown in a similar manner, to ever-curious human eyes.

Ice Cream Gallery and Toys (117 S. Division) and Paintings by Joash Tuinstra (103 S. Division)
Both of these spaces held large-scale canvas paintings, but within different aesthetic environments. While Hugo Claudin's series Women on the Verge of Kicking Your Ass is not new to me, I noted with interest how exhibiting them in a space other than his loft placed them out of their usual context and perhaps in front of a new audience. Ice Cream has claimed the domain of low-brow, anything goes art in Grand Rapids, and the content of these works is certainly edgy. Joash Tuinstra filled 103 S. Division, a typically unoccupied space, with huge canvases depicting landscapes and figures, a few with a Mediterranean feel. While some pieces felt unfinished, one canvas stood out as particularly successful, with figures standing on a beach in the foreground, a swirling, threatening tree above them rendered in great contrast. It held a sense of mystery. Whereas Claudin's work at times seemed to overpower Ice Cream, Tuinstra's was in scale to its space and allowed the viewer to step back far enough to adequately view it. I couldn't help wondering how the Women series would look displayed in the 103 space.

The DAAC (115 S. Division)
Ritsu Katsumata and Melissa Arpin Duimstra's electric violin and vocal performance (no percussionist was present during my visit) against a sobering slideshow honoring those lost to gun violence was serene, ethereal and meditative.

(106) Gallery Main Floor (106 S. Division)
One set of beautifully executed photographs in the After Goldilocks exhibition arrested my interest: the series depicting a blue-eyed toddler-age girl with long blond pigtails. She wore various expressions of petulance while posing in a snow-covered forest. The artist, Brent Klein-Horsman, constructed his project as a narrative of what might play out "if Goldilocks ran away and realized the bears were coming after her." I found myself really liking the last photo in the row, which did not contain the girl, only the wintry forest. At first I thought perhaps my eye was simply attracted to the composition. Upon later reflection, however, I wondered if I was not also primed to like the last photo, relieved to have a serene view after the dramatic visage of the child. Outside of the series I may have found it nice but unremarkable.

From year to year, Art.Downtown. serves as a snapshot of the ever-fluctuating arts community in the city. While artists, galleries, spaces and institutions may come and go, or grow and change over time, art is the new normal here.

Disclosure: In past years I have shown and curated work for this event. As an artist and resident of Avenue for the Arts, many of the participants in Art.Downtown are friends or acquaintances. I have strived to put forth an objective assessment.

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