With two exhibitions debuting, and another being showcased throughout October, the Grand Rapids Art Museum has quite a lot going on this fall.
“It’s a huge perk of the job, I have to say,” said Jennifer Wcisel, GRAM Curatorial Assistant. “It’s always changing and we’re always working on something new.”
While ArtPrize 10 at GRAM ends Oct. 14, Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present and Dylan Miner: Water is Sacred // Trees are Relatives arrive Oct. 27. Together, the three exhibits offer guests a variety of themes and mediums, while pushing the GRAM to do what it hasn’t before, such as hosting a full art installation in the lobby for the first time.
“A lot of artists are dealing with how to communicate their thoughts and their feelings about pressing social issues or political issues, and we really started to respond to works that had some element of struggling with that,” Wcisel said.
In the end, they selected pieces by four Michigan artists — something Wcisel said they try to do every year — and others coming from Finland, Ghana and Venezuela. The exhibit also is hosting three projects awarded ArtPrize Artist Seed Grants.
One of the Michigan artists is Billy Mayer, a Hope College art faculty member who died last November. Wcisel said it isn’t typical to have a deceased artist in their ArtPrize exhibit, but they decided to make an exception after a studio visit to Hope College, where she learned he had planned to submit a piece.
“We thought it would be a great memorial for him to still include that work he had intended to enter,” she said.
After ArtPrize ends, the other exhibits arrive, including a collection of works by an East Lansing-based artist, activist and former ArtPrize participant, Dylan Miner. Water is Sacred // Trees are Relatives debuts a whole new collection focused on the natural environment of West Michigan and its history. Wcisel said the museum has been interested in working with him again since he was part of ArtPrize a few years ago.
The exhibition features large-scale cyanotype photographs — a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print — which portray images of cloudy skies and water surfaces. Miner also made site-specific sculptural elements for the exhibition made from old-growth timber and other arboreal materials.
The exhibition includes a series of workshops where Miner, who is of Wiisaakodewinini (Métis) descent, will work with West Michigan Indigenous youth at selected regional locales to produce cyanotype pieces. This was done in collaboration with two younger Indigenous artists based in Grand Rapids.
“He has a lot of environmental messages in the work, too,” Wcisel said. “When you talk about the sky and the water, that kind of becomes unavoidable in thinking about it and how pollution has affected that.”
The last exhibition, Who Shot Sports, may not have any environmental message, but it does include a very low-key political one. That’s to be expected when you’re looking at more than 200 images that span across centuries.
“The history of sports is really the history of humanity,” Wcisel said. “It sounds a little cheesy, but within the photographs, you see six different continents, different struggles with race, the struggles black athletes faced, and you see the struggles that women have faced.”
Curated by the distinguished photographic historian Gail Buckland, Who Shot Sports was organized by the Brooklyn Museum and has been traveling the country since 2017. GRAM is the last stop on its current schedule.
At the GRAM, it will be broken into nine different sections. One shows the very beginnings of sports photography, for instance, while another focuses on the Olympics, and another on the fans, watching games in stadiums and bars across the world.
Wcisel said they think it will engage a lot of different people, ranging from photographers and those interested in the medium’s history, to people who simply love sports.
“Hopefully, there’s a little something for everybody,” she said.
Artprize 10 at GRAM
Through Oct. 14
Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present
Oct. 27-Jan. 13
Dylan Miner: Water is Sacred // Trees are Relatives
Oct. 27-March 3