Nicole J. Caruth is a freelance writer and curator living in New York. She is a frequent contributor to the Art21 blog. ArtPrize hired Nicole to chronicle the 2009, 2010, and this year’s events. Nicole’s thoughts and opinions are her own and in no way represent an endorsement or objection from ArtPrize toward an individual artist or venue.

In the first week of ArtPrize, nearly 28,000 people registered to vote. Impressive? Absolutely. People are excited about looking at art and have chosen Grand Rapids as their destination. Now, was the top ten what some of us had hoped for? Not so much. But perhaps it’s time to turn the focus from the results to the system that allows the general public to vote in the first place.

For myself, the outcome this year begets questions about how the voting system might be flawed and, if so, how the organization can improve it. And from my observations of the public over the past two weeks, I’ve often wondered if people are casting votes with prudence or if they are they shooting from the hip, so to speak, treating it like a game that has no real life consequence? It seems that a fundamental problem of the ArtPrize voting system is that it’s too easy. Voters have almost as many things to look at as they have opportunities to give thumbs up or down.

Consider the following ideas (some of which are not my own) that might change how people vote and the results we’re seeing: What if you could cast no more than twenty-five votes in the first week and ten votes the second week? What if you could only cast five votes per neighborhood? Or what if you were limited to ten votes across the entire competition? What if voting at ArtPrize worked more like building a personal collection of art you really loved as opposed to clicking on things you liked?

Personally, I prefer the latter idea because in trying to do this for myself, I was challenged to come up with ten entries I felt strongly enough about to post here. What follows are my top nine picks, listed in no particular order:

Amusement abounds in Mimi Kato’s cartoonish computer-generated landscape One Ordinary Day of an Ordinary Town, wherein Kato is everyone and everyone is her. Drawing on Japanese historical arts (including theatre) and her childhood memories, Kato appears in drastically different ages groups, roles, and positions. From showering in a home to brawling on the street to exercising with a group of clones, the artist creates the pulse of this city. Hands down my number one pick this year, I was delighted when Kato received this year’s juried award for two-dimensional work.

Christopher Yockey’s wall sculpture Saying I Do is easy to miss at the Grand Rapids Museum of Art, where it hangs nearish the room of paper tree trunks. In Yockey’s hands, steel takes on the appearance of paper cutouts and spray paint. I’d love to see an entire room or storefront devoted to his whimsical and graffiti-esque forms.

Fortunately, Ryan Spencer Reed returned to ArtPrize after showing his Detroit series at Devos Place in 2010. His keen photojournalistic eye coupled with his experience of living in Sudanese refugee camps come together in Sudan: The Cost of Silence. Reed pictures of the war torn region serve to raise awareness of human suffering without leaning to extremes. While heart-wrenching they art not horrid and though beautiful they are not romantic.

In general, painters exhibited stronger works in ArtPrize 2011 than I recall there being in previous years. But none grabbed me the same way as Screwed Rapids (Wall Drawing #3), created in situ by The Screwed Arts Collective. While I wished there had been more room to stand back from this vibrant mural and take everything in at once, it is a beautiful installation from any angel. This energetic and colorful mix of abstract and figurative imagery offered me something new every time I passed by.

Kevin Kammeraad, The Kevin Kammeraad and Friends Puppet Theatre, 2011. Live performance. Venue: Children’s Museum, outdoors.

Puppeteer-cum-endurance-performer Kevin Kammeraad could be found day after day on the grass outside the Children’s Museum kicking, wiggling, shaking, and singing with an excited crowd of children and parents. His energy was infectious. Playful and educational, I loved what The Kevin Kammeraad and Friends Puppet Theatre added to daily life in the neighborhood of Hillside.

Fraternal Codependence by Nicholas Napoletano exemplified for me the difference between seeing paintings in the virtual versus the physical world. Online, where the artist first came to my attention, his Caravaggian style looked derivative and dreary, whereas in person I found myself in awe of his technical mastery and unexpected stylistic approach to environmental issues, specifically the global increase of natural disasters.

Karisa Wilson. Photo: Kristin Anne Johnson. Venue: St. Cecilia Music Center.

In the basement of St. Cecilia Music Center, a series of listening stations played this year’s music entries. It was here that I discovered Michgan-born recording artist Karisa Wilson. Her indie folk song “Stronger” came to my mind several times during ArtPrize as being something I’d like to hear again and again. Wilson is the latest edition to my iTunes library.

Standing in front of Jennifer Cronin’s Untitled no.1 was like watching a suspense thriller. You, the viewer, know what is happening while the character is unaware and vulnerable to the threat of this black cloud floating over her body. Cronin took a risk here. The thick strokes of paint look carelessly applied against the detailed setting; it looks as if the artist planned to destroy her work and then changed her mind. But what this suggests is that Cronin is in some way haunted by her own painting practice.

Produced by Ji LeePieces of Mind was not about his little Buddhas as much as it was about his larger goal of engaging the people and architecture of Grand Rapids. One reason Lee’s project was a favorite of mine is because it was so well matched to ArtPrize where people are already encouraged to go out and hunt for art, converse about their findings, and hopefully gain new perspectives.

What was in your top ten? I encourage you to share in the comment box below.

By NicoleC on