Today we're thrilled to announce the line-up of the 2012 ArtPrize Speaker Series. I thought I'd take a moment to share some thoughts about who these people are, and why we decided to invite them be part of ArtPrize. But first, the full list of speakers:

  • John Waters - filmmaker, art collector, icon (September 25, Civic Theater)
  • Theaster Gates - artist (September 27, Kendall Historic Federal Building)
  • Jerry Saltz - Senior Art Critic for New York Magazine (October 1, Kendall Historic Federal Building)
  • Alison Gass - Curator of Contemporary Art at the Eli and Edyth Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University (October 2, Kendall Historic Federal Building
  • Elaine Tin Nyo - Artist (October 3, Kendall Historic Federal Building)

When selecting speakers for this year's event, we decided not to stick to a prescriptive theme, opting instead to assemble voices from a wide array of creative disciplines. Nevertheless, there is a thread running through the work of each of these unique individuals that echoes what happens at ArtPrize. We admire this group of people because they challenge, provoke, and redefine what art is to people, cities, and the world. Each in their own way, these five speakers confront the boundaries of art, then expand, ignore, or obliterate them.

To kick off the series, legendary cult filmmaker John Waters will present his one-man spoken word show, This Filthy World. The show recounts Waters' long and varied career, including artistic influences and his fascination with true crime, exploitation films, fashion, and the extremes of the art world. Waters is best known for his delightfully lowbrow movies, but he's also an accomplished writer, artist, and curator. The inspiration to invite him to ArtPrize came when watching this interview, where he quips, "I did a [photo collage] piece that said, 'contemporary art hates you,' and it does hate you, because you can't see it, you don't know the magic trick. You haven't learned the vocabulary, you haven't learned the special way of seeing something that changes it, and that is like joining a biker gang." We couldn't think of a better person to kick off the conversation about high and low taste, and the antagonistic relationship art can have with its audience.

Another more recognizable name on the list is Jerry Saltz. Jerry will be speaking as well as serving on the Grand Prize jury along with Tom Eccles and Theaster Gates. On the one hand, Jerry is a pillar of the New York art world, writing for the Village Voice for nearly a decade, followed by years at New York Magazine. But these credentials betray his iconoclastic approach. Jerry's allegiance is to art, not the art world. His writing is smart, honest, and more readable than a lot of art criticism. Keenly aware of how the dialog around art can get trapped in a silo, he has ventured into realms many critics fear to tread, namely, TV and an extremely popular and candid Facebook page. Saltz served as a juror on Bravo's Work of Art, a contemporary art spin on the Project Runway reality TV model. On Facebook, he writes engaging posts and open questions, leading discussions with nearly 5,000 artists, colleagues, and friends, in what has become an unexpected art world phenomenon.

We've invited two artists to speak, Theaster Gates and Elaine Tin Nyo. Each are redefining how we think about artists in fresh and engaging ways. Gates is a rising star from Chicago whose career has recently flourished with a dizzying number of exhibitions, commissions, and performances. An urban planner and ceramist by trade, he shows that artists can never wear too many hats. Tin Nyo's work asks the viewer to take a closer look at the everyday rituals that bring people together: conversation, sharing a meal, baking a pie.

Alison Gass is the newly appointed curator at the Eli and Edyth Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, which is scheduled to open in November of 2012. Gass joins the Broad from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The Museum will bring a level of contemporary art programming rarely seen in the state. We're happy to welcome her as a neighbor, and hear more about what they have in store.

We hope you'll join us for these exciting lectures!

By Kevin Buist on