At the 2017 ArtPrize Awards, powerful statements—artistic, personal, political, social and otherwise—took center stage, including many from the extended community of Kendall College of Art and Design (KCAD).
The evening’s biggest winner was Seitu Jones, showing at KCAD’s Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA), who took home the KCAD-sponsored $200,000 Juried Grand Prize with his piece “The Heartside Community Meal.” In one of the most compelling interactive pieces in ArtPrize history, Jones welcomed over 250 people to a 300’ long table in Heartside Park on September 23 for a healthy, locally-grown meal and conversation surrounding healthy food access in Grand Rapids.
“What really touched me was the fact that [Jones’] work represented what art is about,” said Grand Prize juror Gaëtane Verna, director of The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto. “It’s not only about the ability to draw well; it’s about what one says through a practice. Through his work, he speaks about some of the key points of America now: access to food, access to community and people creating a space of conversation. Whether they like art or not, everyone understands those basic human questions.”
Grand Prize juror Christopher Scotes, director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum in Detroit, added, “[Jones’ piece] opens up a larger conversation about what art can be, which I think is a wonderful way of engaging those outside of an art bubble, and for that reason I think it’s a very powerful work. It’s not a passive experience; it’s one that’s a very engaging experience… it engages viewers from a whole stratum of economic backgrounds.”
In his acceptance speech, Jones recognized the collaborative effort that made his piece possible and acknowledged that the work it set out to do is far from over.
“This meal was an opportunity for us to have an over-the-table conversation right here in Grand Rapids about food justice and food access, but there are so many other conversations that need to continue,” he said. “This is just the beginning of what hopefully will be other conversations that we have across lines of race and class.”
Following a fifth straight nomination, The Fed Galleries @ KCAD won the Outstanding Venue Award for the second time in ArtPrize history with its Society of Spectacle exhibition. The work in the exhibition confronts the ways in which we passively identify and commodify our social experiences while accumulating a series of intangible moments, considering the artificial reality we mirror and the authentic experiences we fail to define.
In addition to the power of the individual pieces themselves, several of which were named to the Public and Jurors’ shortlists, Outstanding Venue juror Larry Ossei-Mensah praised Curator of Exhibitions Michele Bosak’s willingness to experiment as well as the effort and intentionality she put into organizing the individual pieces into a cohesive experience that fostered viewer engagement.
“The curator really took some very interesting risks; most of the pieces in the exhibition are actually new media,“ said Ossei-Mensah, an independent curator based in New York and the co-founder of ARTNOIR. “When you’re working in an institutional context, it’s important that you acknowledge the issues that are happening within that contemporary moment; issues around identity, gender, queerness, and police brutality. I think a lot of institutions are challenged with growing their audience; [The Fed Galleries] put on the show that they felt was important, but they included components that allowed the viewer to be part of the experience.”
In the 2D category, KCAD alumna Sofía Ramírez Hernández (’14, BFA Printmaking) took home top honors with her entry, “Sofía Draws Every Day: Years 2, 3, and 4.” The piece is composed of three years of Ramírez Hernández’ “non-negotiable” daily drawings, ranging from self-portraits and humorous quotes to fantastical cartoons and personal confessions.
“When you walk into the space, you’re almost overwhelmed by the number of drawings; you’re drawn into the intricacies of what’s it’s like to be an artist on a daily basis,” said 2D juror Miranda Lash, curator of contemporary art at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville. “I felt like I got to know Sofía as a person; it was like reading a diary. One of my favorite drawings said ‘Drawing every day is hard. Drawing every day is easy.’ and to me that speaks so much to what it means to be an artist; it’s that dedication that makes it work.”
Speaking backstage, Ramírez Hernández reflected on a journey that led her to exhibit very personal and revealing work in ArtPrize.
“From the beginning, I started sharing the project on social media and the first few drawings that very diary-like were very intimidating, but I always got really emotional and heartfelt responses with people who had felt the same way or gone through similar things,” she said. “That has kept me going, and I will continue to share my vulnerable moments.”
Le’Andra LeSeur, one of the artists featured in The Fed Galleries @ KCAD, won the Contemporary Black Art Award, an independent award presented by the African American Art and Music Celebration, for her piece, “Searching.”
“Searching” presents the viewer with two video presentations. The artist herself performs in the first series, meant to recall the minute details of recent racially unjust murder cases. The second series focuses on Black women. The subjects of the videos stay silent and maintain eye contact with the camera, inducing feelings of discomfort meant to stir viewers and to challenge their assumptions and biases.
Ultimately, LeSeur’s piece attempts to get viewers to deconstruct the perception surrounding racially-charged murder cases and approach each incident from a more human level.