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ArtPrize Gains New Executive Director

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Christian Gains joins ArtPrize as Executive Director (Image courtesy Brian Kelly)

Grand Rapids-based ArtPrize announced today the hiring of a new executive director, Christian Gaines. Gaines, whose background is in film festival management, has previously worked for IMDb.com, the American Film Institute, and the American Pavilion at Cannes. Hyperallergic spoke to Gaines earlier today to discuss his plans for the organization, host to one of the largest contemporary art prizes in the world.

The organization’s radically democratic model has its many detractors — GQ ran an entertaining piece about ArtPrize last year, chiding the “kitsch” privileged by the fair’s public vote — yet Gaines has no plans to alter the unique “organic process” of voting so critical to ArtPrize’s “audience engagement.” Though conceding that film is “obviously a different medium than contemporary art,” Gaines believes “there are some similarities and areas of expertise [he] can bring — hopefully some commonalities.”

Unlike the alliance between dealers and organizers at major fairs, Gaines emphasizes that his role at ArtPrize is strictly organizational, that he has no desire to influence the art exhibited at the fair. Like Frieze’s Deutsche Bank and Art Basel’s UBS, however, he intends to introduce some high-level corporate sponsors to ArtPrize. Noting his work bringing Audi to the American Film Institute, a similar “thoughtfully integrated sponsorship” in which “the actual nomenclature of the event completely changes, the look and feel changes completely” might be in the cards, though he cautions: “I’m not suggesting that ArtPrize is interested in doing this immediately, it’s way too early to understand the implications of that.”

Such a sponsor arrangement would not differ much from how the X Prize Foundation, which ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos cited as inspiration, has pursued sponsor affiliations for its individual awards. That organization offers large cash payouts for major achievements in science and engineering, via co-branded challenges like “The Google Lunar X PRIZE” (sending a robot to the moon) and “The Archon Genomics X PRIZE presented by Express Scripts®” (human genome sequencing). Gaines is careful to stress that any plans to grow ArtPrize, which currently draws at least 80% of its funding from private sources, would be oriented toward making the nonprofit “stronger rather than bigger.”

Once dubbed “Art Idol” by a sneering New York Times headline, the fair drew hundreds of thousands to Grand Rapids last year. Whether or not it has elevated works of substance is debatable, but ArtPrize has cultivated an interest in contemporary art in an underserved geography, a laudable stance apart from the prevailing paean to power, wealth, and glamor that animates art fairs globally.

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