Quotable quotes from Critical Discourse of the ArtPrize Top 10
by Tori Pelz
Witty, generous, and frank sum up the general tone of this year’s Critical Discourse following the announcement of the top 10 public voted ArtPrize pieces. Jerry Saltz, famed art critic of New York Magazine, Adonna Khare, artist and winner of the last year’s ArtPrize public vote, and Tamara Fox, Kendall College professor and regular H.A.C.K contributor comprised the panel. ArtPrize Exhibitions Director, Kevin Buist smartly set up the discussion by presenting images of art historical and pop cultural comparisons alongside the Top 10.
Although this year’s Top 10 lacked critical heft, the panel remained generous in their comments. Saltz frequently used his platform to explain what good art should and should not do, often invoking one of the ArtPrize Top 10 as an example of the latter. While there were honest estimations of the work, the panel spent time discussing why people prefer these works– most of which are large, familiar, and meticulously detailed. Here are the the quotable quotes from last night’s discussion of the Top 10:
“Taking Flight” at Devos Place
The panel agreed that they would have preferred to see the residue of the process rather than the final product. Khare added that she enjoyed this piece more once she realized that the artist paraded this piece downtown, the sculpture floated by a giant helium balloon. “It’s a beautiful way to invite others to experience [the work],” she commented.
Saltz conveyed a clear preference for an open-ended process of art-making. “The [“Take Flight”] artist set out to make A, and he made A. I’m much more interested in the artist that sets out to make A and makes a teapot.” He added, “I found the piece to be very conventional,”
“Myth-or-Logic” at The Amway Grand Hotel
“The placement [in the Amway Grand] with the Baroque architecture, the opulence” made this piece for Tamara Fox. “[The placement] was a happy accident,” she said.
Saltz reduced the meaning of this work to the “million hours it took” and its familiarity. The consummate teacher, Saltz lectured, “Meaning comes when you create a glitch—when something looks different every time you look at it.” This griffin is no glitch.
“UPlifting” at Gerald R. Ford Museum
“It’s a very erotically charged work,” Fox observed—which is why she was both surprised and “happy to see it in the Top 10.” Saltz and Fox both questioned the fact that these nearly nude figures were generically portrayed as Native American. Fox questioned whether making the couple Native American rendered them different or “other” enough so that their nakedness would not be a source of discomfort.
Highlighting the fountain feature of this sculpture in which water sprayed from the female’s nipple, Saltz sardonically asked,
“Are Native Americans closer to nature? Are they wetter?”
“Sleeping Bear Dune Lakeshore” at The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
The ever-kind Khare shared, “Finding out it was fabric was discovering something new.” She conceded the technical prowess involved in creating the affect of a painting through quilting techniques.
Fox, on the other hand, smelled pandering. “I wasn’t surprised this made [the Top 10] because there are so many people in this area who have a sentimental attachment to this scene.”
“I thought it was pretty cool,” Saltz conceded. Addressing the artist, he promised, “I could make you a better artist if I could make you embrace the chaos” and encouraged this fastidious crafter use the material in a new way. “You have to be willing to re-think skill,” he challenged.
“Polar Expressed” at Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
Khare, known for her animal renderings, readily admitted, “I do like a good bear.” Although, she confessed that her enjoyment of the piece was hampered by the exacting execution of the painting that left no hint of the process.
For Fox, the title, seemingly borrowed from the popular children’s book, The Polar Express by local author Chris van Allsburg was a dead turn-off. Again, she suspected provincial pandering and saw little correlation between the book and this painting.
In perhaps the most scathing comment of the night, Saltz borrowed from Oscar Wilde to share his sentiments, “All bad poetry is sincere.”
“Tired Pandas” at The B.O.B
Saltz read darker tones beyond those under the panda’s eyes in this sculpture constructed out of recycled tires. “We kill certain animals. Then we love them… I just think it’s about sublimation.” The other critics had little to say about this one.
“Dancing with Mother Nature” at the Gerald R. Ford Museum
“I love driftwood. We all do. I don’t know if I like the work, but I like that it was found and sculpted,” Saltz said. Although, he was a bit annoyed that the wood was painted and gave this word to artists:
“Look,” Saltz said, lowering his voice and giving the us his best bedroom eyes, “You want your art to look at you from across the room and say, ‘I can do things to you you can’t imagine!’ You don’t want it to say,” he added with a flip of his wrist, ” ‘Look how cute I am.’ ”
“Earth Giant” at the Grand Rapids Public Museum
“I was surprised how well-nestled it was… It was a very accessible way to present earthworks,” Fox said, referring to 60’s site specific land-based works that were incorporated into the landscape.
Here, Saltz did not talk about the work at all but opted to share a personal experience he had with Robert Smithson’s earthwork, “Spiral Jetty” that left him “thunderstruck.” It involved fat, naked man floating face-up in the salt water. You can read more about that here.
“Finding Beauty in Bad Things” at DeVos Place Convention Center
“Hate!” was Saltz’s immediate response when asked how he felt about this carved wood “quilt.” He gave this mandate to artists who work in this hyper-realistic trompe l’oeil vein, “Stop it!” Saltz argued that this this kind of art that aims to trick the eye it to believing something is real is pointless since “You already know the end product.”
Fox, on the other hand, had a more nuanced appreciation of the work. “ At first, I thought this was all novelty.” For a piece supposedly about an invasive weed, she saw the parallel between the trompe l’oeil technique and “nature’s way to protect.”
Khare giggled and shared that this piece prompted her to imagine how much fun she could have if this piece was a guest towel in a bathroom during dinner party she hosted. “I’d videotape the guests just to see their reaction– but no videotaping in the bathroom because that’s creepy.”
Khare described this work as “beautifully rendered.” Fox recognized the appeal of the large scale that made viewers feel like they were “among” the flowers.
Saltz, however, did not feel like he was in a garden. “I felt like I was in a mall.” Looking on the bright side, he added, “Bad art teaches us as much as good art.” Thanks for the take-away, Uncle Jerry.