ArtPrize 2011 Brings Robust Competition

The inaugural ArtPrize put Grand Rapids on the map as a place where art is loved and where conversations of art are fluent. ArtPrize 2010 exploded with more participants, venues and visitors and added the exhibition center concept. This year, as the competition gears up for its third round, the emphasis may shift from what you see to what you hear.

ArtPrize 2011 has not necessarily added a new element, but has made it easier for artists whose entries are musical or performance-based to be heard and seen. With the addition of St. Cecilia's Music Center as the eighth exhibition center, you can be sure that when you walk in, a menagerie of sounds will come your way.

Though the competition remains much the same structurally, the organization of ArtPrize has added an important new member. Catherine Creamer has joined the team as the new executive director/COO of ArtPrize.

"I became involved with the opportunity here," Creamer said. "I've worked in the creative field with furniture... I've always been involved in ArtPrize and I've seen it both years. I've been delighted and a big fan of ArtPrize and when I heard that the position was open, I was really excited."

Creamer is no stranger to business endeavors. She has held numerous leadership positions, including those with Herman Miller and Kendall College of Art and Design, among others. With an art background herself (she is a trained textile artist), she has also served on the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park executive committee for the last eight years and is president of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. Though she is involved in numerous undertakings, Creamer is excited to focus her lens on ArtPrize.

"I look forward to experiencing it in my new role... [getting] an up-close-and-personal view of ArtPrize," she said. "In the past, my personal experience was as a volunteer and attendee with my family. I am delighted this year to — I imagine — be involved in most aspects of the event. It's an incredible learning curve for me ... I know that the three weeks will be full of new experiences."

Though there have been a few small additions to ArtPrize this year, the numbers may appear smaller than years past. But don't be fooled; the competition is still alive and well.

"We never say bigger is better at ArtPrize," Creamer said. "It's still incredibly robust. We do know that some of the art is a lot larger. Some of the exhibition centers are not exceeding their numbers, but showing larger work. We want to promote the diversity of art."

Pictured: ArtPrize 2010 3rd place winner Beili Lieu's "Lure/Wave," shot by Kim Kibby

Absorbed by Art 

In its third year, ArtPrize is giving the art of music a bigger opportunity to be featured, with the addition of St. Cecilia's Music Center to the Exhibition Center lineup.

The Exhibition Centers include Diocese of Grand Rapids' Cathedral Square, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, The Grand Rapids Art Museum, The Grand Rapids Public Museum, GVSU Outdoor Art & Sculpture, St. Cecilia's Music Center, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art and the Women's City Club.

Here is a selection of local artists from these Exhibition Centers:


Wade Gugino
Entry: Comangra City
Venue: Grand Rapids Public Museum

Wade Gugino is taking comic books to incredible new heights. His ArtPrize entry, Comangra City, incorporates popular characters from comics, manga and graphic novels in the form of a 3'x 4' book. Consisting of 12 pages of scenes on glass, the book was created by laser etching. Complete with LED strips to illuminate the story in various places and a free-standing metal base, the result is a whopping six-foot mega comic.

"The idea of it came a few years ago, that it would be fun to get people to see comics from around the world," Gugino said. "The idea is to bring all of them [characters] to the center. They'll all have their own suburb but come together at the city center."

What initially spurred the Holland-based artist's interest in comics, apart from his childhood ambition to become a cartoonist and his affinity for cartoons like Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes, was his post-college stint as a basketball player in Europe. After being immersed for 15 years in a culture that sees cartoons in an alternate light, and even contributing some of his own cartoons to French newspapers and magazines, Gugino wanted to bring that mentality back home. And since 2007, he's done just that with his applied cartooning business, Googenius. Catering to anything from school curriculum and programs to local businesses and churches, Googenius even offers summer camps for kids.

Though ArtPrize 2011 will be Gugino's second go-round with an etched glass entry, he looks forward to the ensuing exposure from the competition.

"I had a great time last year," he said. "I live near Grand Rapids and I had more people see my art last year than I could have ever hoped. I sold the piece. It was also a great opportunity to get people to know my work and other things I'm doing."

Dana Freeman
Entry: Landscape Reliquary
Venue: Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Artist Dana Freeman is not only participating in ArtPrize, but also will have her entry left on display until December as part of an exhibition hosted by Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Freeman's entry, Landscape Reliquary, is part of Sculpture Today: New Forces, New Forms, an exhibit running from Sept. 21-Dec. 31.

Freeman, an associate professor of Art at Aquinas College, is a third-time ArtPrize participant and anticipates the extended length of time her work will be exhibited, along with the perks it will allow her.

"The last two years I worked so hard to get my work up and it seems like it's down as soon as it's up," she said. "I can get in there earlier and install and see the rest of ArtPrize and participate a little bit more."

Her entry, Landscape Reliquary, drips with nostalgia. It features 250-300 stacked honey bear bottles, each with water and pressed flowers floating inside. Though the flowers come from places she's connected to - Blandford School, Frederik Meijer Gardens, Aquinas College and various others - the sentiment of the honey bears runs deep for Freeman.

"They are a little bit of an icon for me," she said. "It refers to sweetness and nostalgia. My mother always made me tea when I was sick. I think something about it is like a guardian angel in way too."

As the competition unfolds, the flowers will begin to fade, which brings up yet another hidden meaning.

"I want the experience to be one of beauty and one of realizing that beauty is fleeting," Freeman said. "I like viewers to find something in my work that relates to their life. If they see it over time ... you still have the beauty and importance of it even if it starts to fade, like a photograph. Even though the experience is gone, you still have the memory."

Ann Chuchvara
Entry: Canopy
Venue: Women's City Club

Powerful yet delicately invisible, Ann Chuchvara's work is homage to what is taken for granted.

Utilizing inconspicuous materials like tracing paper, thread, latex and wire, she lets pattern and repetition serve as a reminder of the beauty held in the periphery of our lives.

Canopy is the Rockford-based artist's attempt to transform ordinary into valuable with her use of hand cut web-like strips of tracing paper coated in gold leaf. An offer of protection and a reminder of how brief our experiences can be, it was inspired by nature's sometimes discreet splendor.

"I was walking in a field and the light was hitting on these weeds a certain way," Chuchvara said. "And normally you wouldn't see anything, but the way the light was hitting them; there were all these webs and each one of them was this intricate beautiful thing, and if the light wasn't hitting it at that time in that way, I would have never seen it."

After earning a BFA in ceramics from GVSU and a MFA in ceramics from the University of Colorado at Boulder, she discovered that clay was too heavy a medium for the point she was trying to get across.

"I think what attracted me to ceramics in the first place was the process," she said. "It's very repetitive. Time equals worth and if you spend a lot of time with something, there's a value associated with it. The more you give it attention, the more valuable it becomes."

Not initially interested in ArtPrize until she was invited to display her work in the Women's City Club atrium, Chuchvara became intrigued by the space and its past.

"The home was built in the 1890s, so it has a lot of remains or memories associated with it," she said. "I am intrigued by the notion of memory that has collected in old spaces. I am always in question of how we attempt to remember or hold on to something after it is gone."


Al Wildey
Entry: Quatre Saisons
Venue: Grand Rapids Art Museum

Al Wildey's photographic images represent more than just a time or place; they are a direct link to his journey as an artist. Using composite digital photography, Wildey creates layered images, and his ArtPrize entry, "Quatre Saisons" (The Four Seasons), is a colorful example.

"It's an extension of a series that I've been working on for five years called the Journey Series," he said. "It continues the investigation of mine to document my world ... and it pushes the concept of photography for me."

Composite digital photography is a way of combining multiple images into just one composite image. Sometimes using hundreds of layers in a single photograph, Wildey is able to tell a story that is more than first meets the eye.

"During travels, I take images and make composite images," he said. "The more layers, the fuzzier it gets. To me, that a really interesting metaphor. The longer we live, the more our experiences start to fall by the wayside."

The concept of travel has been of monumental importance to Wildey. His military experience gave him the opportunity to travel the world; he was stationed in England for two years and has since lived in six states across the U.S., now calling Mt. Pleasant home. Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Wildey says traveling has greatly impacted his photography.

"It's informed it in a really significant way," he said. "It's my trying to come to grips - trying to understand - attempting to record and process the world I'm in. It really is about me trying to tell the story of my journey through those images."

After earning his MFA from the University of Idaho and a BFA from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Wildey now teaches in the Art and Design Department at Central Michigan University. Back for his third round of ArtPrize, he anticipates having his work "Quatre Saisons" on view at GRAM.


The Water Clocks
Entry: The Water Clocks
Venue: St. Cecilia's Music Center

Together since early 2010, Grand Rapids rock band The Water Clocks has already enjoyed a healthy music career. Now with ArtPrize fully initiating music performance as a full-blown entity in the competition, the band members, especially frontman Craig Nelson, look forward to being part of the event.

"We're all musicians and want to be artists underneath," Nelson said. "Anything we can do to create and contribute in any way we can ... and be part of the art and sculpture and everything else."

The Water Clocks began when Nelson, along with bassist Joe Sarnicola (Lowlight)who had played together in the pastdecided the time was right for a reunion. With the addition of two other members, the band was basking in the ease of songwriting and would release its self-titled debut EP in March 2011. Nelson says the fan reception after the EP's release has been a positive experience.

"I think we had a successful release party," Nelson said. "We had a blast and sold a good amount of discs at the show and since then. It's been really positive. I really want to be humble when I say that. We've heard a lot of people saying, ‘We don't hear anything like this around here...'"

The Water Clocks include Sarnicola and Nelson (former lead guitarist for Papa Vegas and Brian Vander Ark), Jordan Gilliam (former lead guitarist for Still Remains), Kevin Max (Grammy-winning vocalist for DC Talk) and drummer Ross Veldheer (Sweet Japonic). Nelson admits what he anticipates from the band's first ArtPrize involvement:

"Kicking everybody's ass! [laughs] No, like I said, we're a little humble and laid back," he said. "We prefer to go out there onstage and close our eyes and play our asses off and show everybody who we are ...We're the kind of band where you tell us where and when and we'll play."

Ritsu Katsumata
Entry: Variations on Heaven and Hell
Venue: UICA

If you're a lover of electric violin, Bob Marley and/or Buddha, you should experience Ritsu Katsumata's ArtPrize entry, Variations on Heaven and Hell, a performance with collaborators Hugo Claudin (drums) and Rachel Finan (dance) at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.

Katsumata has teamed up with the local performers to tell a tale based on a Japanese Buddhist story of the soul attempting to climb to heaven on a spider's thread.

"Every culture has some kind of notion of heaven and hell or of life and death and there are similarities and differences and I wanted to mix them all up, but I wanted to show that there are different ways of expressing them," she said.

For the performance, Katsumata will represent Buddha in heaven while playing riffs from Bob Marley songs such as, "Get Up, Stand Up," "No Woman No Cry" and "Redemption Song," as Finan signifies a soul attempting the climb to heaven and Claudin embodies Earth.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Katsumata began her career at age 10 as a classical violinist. As a regular in the children's competition circuit in Philadelphia, she also competed in Washington, D.C. and New York. By 20, Katsumata admits she had burned out after years of playing music that didn't fit her style. Ten years later, she plugged into a Marshall stack and was blown away by the sounds she was able to produce.

After years of touring with a rock-based power trio, Katsumata discovered the thrills of a looping device called an Echoplex, and was able to take her music to a new level.

"I think what I'm doing now — I'm still using all those classical things — I'm doing a modern version of the Gregorian chant...," she said. "I wanted to make it crystal clear that I wasn't trying to recreate Bach or something. The electric violin gives me freedom."