Art and Placemaking Collide in Ambitious Exhibition from KCAD’s ArtPrize 2016 Curatorial Fellow
When people think of public art in Grand Rapids, they think of ArtPrize. But many don’t realize that the still relatively young event is part of a rich history of public art projects that have played a large part in shaping the city’s identity.
This September, ArtPrize Eight viewers will get an intimate look into that history through an exhibition curated by Julia Victor, the ArtPrize Curatorial Fellow paired with Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s (KCAD’s) The Fed Galleries @ KCAD for 2016. Organized with support from KCAD Curator of Exhibitions Michele Bosak and funded in part by a grant KCAD received from ArtPrize through the Curatorial Fellow initiative, CITY FLUX: Art, Architecture & Grand Rapids will examine the role of art in the evolution of urban environments by responding to the impact of Grand Rapids’ historical support of public art, from the commissioning of Alexander Calder’s iconic “La Grande Vitesse” to ArtPrize itself.
"Grand River" by Francisco Pinheiro, featured in the CITY FLUX exhibition (image courtesy of the artist)
It’s a topic that Victor, who studied art and art history at Grand Valley State University before earning an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, has been interested in for some time. CITY FLUX grew out of her previous research, namely into an exhibition held in Grand Rapids in 1973 called Sculpture Off the Pedestal. Organized by the Women’s Committee of the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM), the exhibition brought in large public works from high profile artists working at the time, such as Robert Morris, Clement Meadmore, Mark di Suvero, and Kenneth Snelson.
Victor wasn’t aware of Sculpture Off the Pedestal until a year ago, when she stumbled upon Morris’ “The Grand Rapids Project,” an art earthwork built into a large hill in Belknap Park near downtown Grand Rapids.
“I thought to myself, ‘How did this come about? Why is this here?’ These questions led me to [Sculpture Off the Pedestal] and I immediately thought about ArtPrize and began to see this lineage emerge,” says Victor.
In looking at “La Grande Vitesse” – the first public work of art to be funded by the National Endowment for the Arts’ Art in Public Places program – Sculpture Off the Pedestal, and ArtPrize, Victor says they share a common purpose.
“They’re all interested in collapsing boundaries between art and the public, about engaging public space. It begs a lot of questions about what the purpose of art is in our cities and how it can be useful beyond just sitting in a museum.”
"Corrected Memory of a City (Grand Rapids)" by Jiyon Hong, featured in the CITY FLUX exhibition (image courtesy of the artist)
CITY FLUX aims to draw ArtPrize Eight audiences into this larger conversation through the work of six talented young artists: Philana Brown, Mike Hewson, Jiyon Hong, Francisco Pinheiro, Bailey Romaine, and Kimberly Sutton. While some of the artists will grapple with ideas of place, commodity, and culture, others will be coming at the exhibition from another angle, using the city, its history, and contemporary life to inform their work, with plenty of overlap in the mix. Located in the building at 50 Monroe, the resulting exhibition will reveal itself in conceptual layers and take an overarching look at art’s influence on Grand Rapids’ past, present, and future.
“All of the artists are all creating new, original pieces for the exhibition, and I wanted them to engage specifically with the location of Grand Rapids,” says Victor. “It was important to me to have a very diverse group of individuals, both culturally and in terms of how their practices engaged these ideas.”
Conceptually ambitious exhibitions can be tricky to pull off in the context of ArtPrize, where the sheer volume of work on display means that competition for audiences’ attention will always be stiff. As a three-time finalist and one-time winner of ArtPrize’s Outstanding Venue juried award, The Fed Galleries @ KCAD understand that a successful exhibition is one that engages viewers on multiple levels, aesthetically, conceptually, and contextually.
Victor has been able to leverage Bosak’s experience in building that balance into CITY FLUX.
"My strategy is to present significant historic moments rooted in the local Grand Rapids community," she says. "Though conceptual art asks a lot from the viewer, I'm hoping to make these connections so that one may relate to contemporary practices through conversations about the city's collective past."
"tumultum populi (noise of the people)" by Kimberly Sutton, featured in the CITY FLUX exhibition (image courtesy of the artist)
As the organizational process continues, Victor looks forward to learning more from Bosak, as well as how she can apply her experience both to this exhibition and others she’ll curate in the future.
“I have a lot of experience figuring out my own idea and knowing how to put a show together, but it’s a lot of the back end stuff that people don’t realize is very time consuming and 80-90% of the actual exhibition. Having a mentor that has navigated that before that I can lean on has been extremely crucial,” she says.
"Under the Purple Sky" by Philana Brown, featured in the CITY FLUX exhibition (image courtesy of the artist)
Bosak, whose mentorship helped KCAD’s 2015 Curatorial Fellow Elizabeth Hertl earn an Outstanding Venue nomination for her exhibition Processing Fiber, is looking forward to seeing audiences interact with CITY FLUX.
“ArtPrize evolves every year and so does its audience. Those who are repeat attendees are engaging with the work on a different level than they did two or three years ago,” says Bosak. “The more conversations that take place, the more confident and comfortable people are discussing what they’re viewing and experiencing. Over time, that dialogue deepens. That’s my favorite part of ArtPrize, the exchanges that lead us to a deeper understanding of art and ourselves.”
An opening reception for the exhibition will be held in the exhibition space at 50 Monroe NW on September 23 from 8-11pm. Learn more about Julia Victor and CITY FLUX: Art, Architecture & Grand Rapids on the ArtPrize website.