The Detroit Free Press‘s art critic got quite a scare there during the Grand Rapids ArtPrize. He was afraid something kitsch was going to win:
I believe there was something magical about how ArtPrize saturated the city with more than 1,200 pieces of new art and galvanized public conversation, and I think the competition’s uniquely democratic ethos has a valuable role to play in a world filled with juried art contests and fairs. But I was still concerned that a gimmicky work was going to win. I was afraid it would be an aesthetic embarrassment that might cause irreparable harm to the credibility of ArtPrize and discourage quality artists from entering.
It would have accentuated the dilemma of relying on the vox populi as an arbiter of artistic quality and called into question the wisdom of awarding a huge sum of money to visual candy or mediocre art. But Ortner, 50, a mid-career artist with a modest résumé, needs no apology. His work, the only painting among the Top 10, is a compelling if conservative blend of form and feeling. It would not have been my choice. I preferred Chakaia Booker’s rubber-and-steel sculptures and Young Kim’s “Salt & Earth” installation of portrait photography, salt and clay. But Ortner was a solid pick. (Booker did not make the Top 100 of the popular vote and Kim was in the Top 25.)
Yet the overall quality of the Top 10 nags at me. It was dominated by enormous but empty public works, gee-whiz kinetic sculptures, derivative ideas and entertaining divertissements. Depth was in short supply, though I also liked 8th-place finisher Sarah Grant’s giant table and chairs perched on the Blue Bridge for how the piece integrated into its environment and winked at the city’s history as a center of furniture design.
ArtPrize a big hit, but it needs a critical voice (Detroit Free Press)