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Nicole Caruth is a freelance writer and curator living in New York and frequent contributor to the Art:21 blog. ArtPrize hired Nicole to chronicle the 2009 event, and decided to bring her back this year. 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.

Just yesterday, an article in the Grand Rapids Press questioned whether artists showing at fringe venues stand a chance in this competition? Probably not. From what I gather, many artists who show their work on the outskirts of the event know that they don’t have a shot at the top ten, but still want to be part of the community experience. Or, as a few artists have expressed to me, they are less interested in showing their work in heavily trafficked areas than they are in spaces that are personally meaningful. Since I arrived in Grand Rapids, I have tried to make my way further out from the center, to small galleries, offices spaces, and into nooks and crannies of ArtPrize to find, as one person phrased it on this blog, “the hidden gems.” Here are a few works that I recommend checking out (in no particular order):

Rain Cloud (Grand Rapids) by Stephanie Imbeau (@ Peaches Bed & Breakfast): Imbeau reached out to me on Twitter last week and if she hadn’t, I might have missed out on something special. Her bulbous formsmade from lost and found umbrellas are lit from the inside and glow like lanterns at night. During the day, they have a different sort of playfulness about them, taking on the appearance of jumbo beach balls and colorful tents. You can lie down on the grass and poke your head into openings at the base to see the armature and chaotic web of umbrella sticks and handles that comprise the piece, which was constructed with the help of two neighborhood residents. “Umbrellas are an accessible visual cue regardless of class or education; everyone uses them or at least is familiar with them,” says Imbeau. “I find it a shame that in my little corners of the world these fantastic creations only come out when the weather is miserable.” A 52-foot tall version of this sculpture was installed in London last year, connecting the material to England’s rainy climate. Now, that’s something I’d love to see near or in the Grand River one day.

Good Will Prevail by Nancy Fleming (@ the Goodwill Store): Fleming’s installation is crafty kitsch and busy in all the right ways. From the sofa cover made of found crocheted objects and coffee table jam packed with chotskies, to the retro latch-hook rug and cross-stitched folding screens, Good Will Prevail is the best of the worst in thrift store inventory. Displayed in the window, the installation also looks like an advertisement, a mashup of all the things that one might find on shelves inside. It probably goes without saying that the setting is part of what makes this piece so great. Site matters

Evaporative Buildingsby Alex Schweder La (@ UICA Sheldon Exhibition Center): The UICA is not a fringe venue, but this piece, installed on their loading dock, is easy to miss. (I walked right by it twice without realizing it was there.) Made from projections and mechanically produced precipitation, La’s architecture-based piece is something you really have to experience for yourself.

Vessel by Amanda Katz (@ Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park): Meijer is the only venue outside of ArtPrize’s 3-square mile boundary, and it’s well worth the shuttle ride. Installed on the front lawn is an eclectic mix of large-scale sculpture, including Katz’s semi-cylindrical piece that blends steel, wood, and fragments of the artists own poetry. Vessel is itself poetic in material and construction: the stencil-like forms add air and lightness to the piece and there’s a sense that itmight tip and tumble at any moment. Yet it is anchored in place by its heavy framework. The design is based on the the clinker method for constructing boats and ships (often linked with the Vikings) in which wooden planks fixed to iron plates appear to overlap at the edges.

Iron & Fabric – Balanced by Aspasia Tsoutsoura & Bittersweet by Celeste Cooning (@ Calvin College 106 Gallery): If you’re looking for quiet, contemplative, and decorative, you should visit this venue. Tsoutsoura’s tight grid of fabric and iron explores opposing materials and concepts (cold and warm, soft and hard, etc). Installed in a nearby window is Cooning’s delicate cut paper hanging, a highly-ornate curtain that transforms the space as well as Division street.

Wannabe CEOs by Ryan Roth (@ Women’s City Club): Anyone who has walked the corridors of corporate buildings or sat in university conference rooms will quickly recognize the source of Roth’s portraits. Surrounded by ice cream scoop and faux gilded framing, his not quite CEOs represent ineffective pawns of the corporate rat race,” as opposed to affluent and dignified professionals.The cake reading “You’re fired” might be a reference to the über dramatic tagline of celebrity CEO Donald Trump on his corporate reality show The Apprentice. ArtPrize offers plenty of whimsy, but hilarious? That’s hard to find.

By NicoleC on