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Why These Finalists prompts conversation about ArtPrize Top 40

Last night, three art critics gathered to discuss jury and public finalists for ArtPrize at Why These Finalists.
Underwriting support from:

/Eric Bouwens

/Eric Bouwens

/Eric Bouwens

Video courtesy of WOOD TV8


After the release of the top 20 public vote finalists, jurors gathered last night to discuss public and jury ArtPrize finalists. It was a night that included discussions of race and violence, what makes one piece of art stand out from the crowd, as well as plenty of laughter to break up serious topics.

The event took place at 7 p.m. at the ArtPrize Hub (41 Sheldon SE), and the second half of "Why These Finalists" will be taking place at the Hub again tonight. Last night’s discussion covered two-dimensional and installation pieces, and tonight’s event will finish the two-part discussion with three-dimensional and time-based finalists.

Both nights of the event are televised on WOOD TV8 and the hashtag that ArtPrize used to engage viewers in the discussion is #ArtPrizeWTF. The jurors who discussed the pieces were Jillian Steinhauer, Nicole Caruth and Anila Quayyum Agha. Steinhauer is a top art blogger for Hyperallergic, Caruth is the artistic director for exhibits and public engagement at the Bemis Center, and Agha was last year’s ArtPrize double grand prize winner, garnering the public vote as well as a split Grand Jury selection.

One topic that came up repeatedly throughout the discussion was the prevalence of race related pieces entered this year. Two in particular that the critics discussed were “A Fearless Brother Project Presents: Realistic Neglects - A Graphic Series” at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) and “In a Promised Land…” at DeVos Place Convention Center.

“The images are so timely,” says Caruth of “A Fearless Brother Project.” “I feel like violence, and racial injustice and inequity, are at the forefront of public consciousness, and there’s been quite a bit of that at ArtPrize.”

When discussing the piece “In Our Element,” the subject returned. The Dominican artist behind the piece, Ruben Ubiera, was mistakenly assumed to be creating graffiti illegally while creating his installation. As a result he was picked up by the police, who later released him from their custody.

“I think it speaks to the current situation,” said Agha. “It makes it interesting that he is talking about human history, and here’s a local history that’s not so wonderful all the time.”

While going through the entries, the critics found some pieces of art that they did not feel was working successfully. One example, the work “Triple Play,” had panelist Agha wondering if its popularity with the public had in part to do with the recent controversy surrounding Cecil the lion.

“They’re painted to look like cats,” said Steinhauer. “We anthropomorphize them or we think they’re cute. Those are the only ways we can relate. If tigers could be belittled, this is belittling.”

The critics described some pieces as provocative, such as “SENSI.” Though they did not agree with the way it was hung, it caught their attention.

“You could go a lot of places with this piece,” said Caruth. “I would say that it’s kind of provocative, and I haven’t seen much of that in the work that we’re talking about.”

When asked about their favorite submissions, Caruth chose Anishinaabensag Biimskowebshkigewag (Native Kids Ride Bikes),” Agha said she wanted to see more of SiTE:LAB and Steinhauer enjoyed SiTE:LAB and “Zebras.”

Part Two of “Why These Finalists?” will be at 7 p.m. at the ArtPrize Hub and aired live on WOOD TV8. The event is free, and free parking is available in the parking lot across the street from the Hub in the evenings.

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