At tonight’s event held at 21c Durham, Chris Vitiello took home a $5,000 grant to bring an interactive, performative installation to the Grand Rapids Art Museum this fall; 2016 Pitch Night Durham winner went on to take home the $200,000 ArtPrize Juried Grand Prize.

DURHAM (North Carolina) MAY 17, 2017 -- ArtPrize, the independently organized art competition recognized as the world’s largest annual public art event -- in collaboration with 21c Museum Hotels, Delta Air Lines and Experience Grand Rapids -- tonight awarded a $5,000 grant to Chris Vitiello for his Pitch Night Durham-winning entry, ‘The Language is Asleep’. Vitiello captured the attention of tonight’s five judges, including Stacey Kirby, Durham-based artist, Pitch Night winner, and winner of the $200,000 ArtPrize Juried Grand Prize in 2016. In addition to the grant, the installation earned a guaranteed spot at the Grand Rapids Art Museum during ArtPrize Nine, slated to take place September 21-October 8, 2017.

“Chris’s work invites public participation, encouraging visitors to become part of the artwork itself. This is something that’s also true of the artwork I create,” said Kirby, whose ArtPrize-winning performance and installation The Bureau of Personal Belonging immersed visitors in a 1960s era bureaucratic office. “In these times, I believe it’s important to invite everyone into the work you’re doing so that everyone feels represented.”

Tonight’s event was hosted by 21c Museum Hotel at their Durham, North Carolina location, featuring more than 10,500 square-feet of exhibition space where curated exhibitions and site-specific installations reflect the global nature of contemporary culture.

Vitiello’s work was selected from among five artists that were invited to present at tonight’s Pitch Night event. Each artist was given five minutes and five slides to sell their ambitious, site-specific installation idea to a panel of local arts professionals including: Ron Platt, Chief Curator at Grand Rapids Art Museum; Karen Gillenwater, Museum Manager at 21c Museum Hotel Louisville; Teka Selman, Owner of Selman Contemporary; Laura Ritchie, Co-Founder and Director at The Carrack Modern Art; and Stacey Kirby, Artist, Pitch Night Durham winner, and winner of the 2016 ArtPrize Juried Grand Prize.

Vitiello will transform the Porter Gallery at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) into a surreal, interactive environment for language to rest and rejuvenate. The artist explained that language, much like a person, can tire, and that misuse, overuse and abuse in the increasingly divisive state of public discourse has exhausted language to the point where it is breaking down and has lost meaning.

“Language, when it gets exhausted, needs to rest,” said Vitiello during his pitch at tonight’s event. “Language needs to dream, to reconnect with its power, with its potential. Then we can wake it back up once it has slept and replenished itself.”

The artist will cover the walls, floor and ceiling in the GRAM gallery space, immersing ArtPrize goers with over 3,000 original one-line poems written on dictionary pages. Then throughout the 19-day event, the artist will act as an avatar for the sleeping language -- spending the museum’s open hours obsessively writing additional one-line poems from atop a towering ladder or curled up on a nest made of dictionaries. Museum visitors will have the opportunity to give him a word or phrase to inform a poem, which they can then take home to keep.

On the last Friday of ArtPrize, he will waken language in a public ritual that will include all those present in the gallery -- after which he will transform into the whimsical, joyful Poetry Fox who will create custom poems for visitors and ultimately create a space of renewal, generosity and hope during the final days of the event.

“We thought that the work was a great distillation of the current moment we are in and how we might escape the conundrum of communication,” said Karen Gillenwater, reflecting on the jurors’ pick. “We also really appreciated the engagement portion the work and sharing that with the audience and proving them with not only take-aways but the experience of interacting with the artist.”

ArtPrize Pitch Night launched in 2013 as a means of discovering and supporting ambitious, exciting projects and to reduce the barriers to bringing them to the annual competition. Since its inception, the Pitch Night program has continued to expand and in 2016 includes events in six cities across the country. 21c Museum Hotels will host three events -- in Louisville, KY on May 15; tonight in Durham, NC; and in Bentonville, AR on May 22. The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit will host a Pitch Night event on June 1, the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans on June 5, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art on June 8. Each event will award the winning artist $5,000 and a spot in a prominent ArtPrize venue during the eighth annual event.

ArtPrize Nine will take place across downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan from September 20-October 8, 2017. Artist registration for the world’s largest art competition is now open through June 8.

Image: Courtesy of Chris Vitiello. Photo by J Caldwell.

By Jaenell Woods on