Me and my artist’s ArtPrize Swag Bag! Fancy spiral-bound journal, map and guidebook, green lanyard with conference-style name badge and a green rubber bracelet that reads “ARTPRIZE 2011 ARTIST.” (all photos by the author unless otherwise noted)

GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — ArtPrize is here! Originally created in 2009 as an urban experiment by Rick DeVos (grandson of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos), Grand Rapids, Michigan is now home to the largest art prize money awarded by public vote in the world. Over 150 venues across three downtown square miles house the entries of more than 1500 artists. During the two-week event, the public is asked to vote for their favorite work of art. Once those votes are tallied, the top 10 are announced and in the second week, the public votes on who should receive the top prize of $250,000.

As an artist participating in ArtPrize myself, I had the amazing experience of not only visiting Grand Rapids for the first time, but also experiencing this mega-event for the first time. While walking around the city snapping pics, I was instantly reminded about my solo trip to the Venice Biennale in 2003 when I was just a college kid: feeling like an outsider to the local people, crossing bridge after bridge and trying to consume the overwhelming amount of artwork around me. As a cultural producer, I can’t help but analyze and tally the formal and conceptual trends that are present in such a saturated art environment.

So from the perspective of a dude like me, here are the Top 6 things I saw at ArtPrize 2011:


In a broad sense, color is everywhere. In a more specific sense, the ordered rainbow color scheme is everywhere. I came to ArtPrize with my own rainbow-colored piece, so it’s probably my rainbow colored glasses that gave me this distinct focus.

D.B. Henkel, “At the end of the…”

Stacie Dubay & Darcy Wildt, “After the Rainbow Fell”

Jeffrey Augustine Songco, “GayGayGay robe”

Deanna Bowdish, “Ripple Series: Full Spectrum”


Love is in the air this year. I’ve been having boy problems for the last seven billion years, so it’s no surprise that I was thinking about love the entire time I was in Grand Rapids.  Whether or not it was cliché, hearts were here and hearts were there and sometimes I smiled and sometimes I cried.  Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine …

Soba One, “Plastic Passion”

Soba One, “Plastic Passion,” (takeaway souvenir!)

Virginia Vogel, “Embracing Being”

Carrie Zimdar, “Songbirds”

Anya Belkina, “Moston”


My host for my stay in Grand Rapids has three dogs. I love dogs. I love animals. I love when two dogs carry the same stick and run across a park together. Animals doing animal things is the best!

Allen Backstrom, “Wings in the Forest”

Lynda Marnon, “Endangered”

Steven Hall, “Koi”

Glen McCune, “into the wind”

Llew Doc Tilma, “Grizzlies on the Ford”

Juniper Tangpuz, “Urban Evolution”

References to Great Masters!

Like any great art event, there are great nods to great artists from the great past. I wrapped up my MFA studies this past May, and with the crisp September Michigan air tickling my nose, I thought about how awesome school life was and how I’ve learned a lot about the history of art from my art education. I think a lot of artists at ArtPrize feel the same way.

Marc Wiegers, “Untitled #7,” (a little nod to Calder)

Alois Kronschlaeger, “Spire,” (a little nod to LeWitt)

Jesiq and Horst, “Mother Earth,” (a little nod to McQueen)

Jesiq and Horst, “Mother Earth,” (McQueen… again)

Steven Deeb, “Cubism of a Thought,” (a little nod to Van Gogh)

Brady Davidson, “If You Build It They Will Come,” (a little nod to Oldenburg)


During ArtPrize, my artwork is exhibited at the Westminster Presbyterian Church. During my week stay, I was at the church everyday, I sang at choir practice and I gave a presentation during a panel discussion on queer theology. If Jesus wasn’t on my mind more than anything else, I don’t know what was.

Marilyn Lakatos, “A Walk in the Fire”

Bette Dickinson, “What Breathes Beneath Our Story”

Daniel Van Duinen, “In Light of Suffering”

Daniel Van Duinen, “In Light of Suffering,” (This is the postcard for the work of art. The photograph was mounted on the inside of the cylinder structure. As you stand in the opening, the two crucified men stare at you.)

Mia Tavonatti, “Crucifixion”


I was born in New Jersey, I live in San Francisco and now I’m in Michigan. I’ve been to every state in the country, well, I’ve watched every state compete in the Miss America and Miss USA pageants ever since I was a baby boy. I hum the Star Spangled Banner when I brush my teeth. I love America but it still hasn’t accepted my Facebook friend request!

Tyler Carlisle, “Unity”

LeAnne Sowa, “The Red Cottage”

Maria Schneider, “American Dream”

Jessica Loosenort, “Those We’ve Lost”

Sunti Pichetchaiyakul, “President Gerald Ford Visits ArtPrize,” (There is a fiberglass sculpture of Gerald Ford gazing at a bronze bust of himself. The artist was present sculpting a clay bust of Betty Ford.)

Nick Demos, “Fifty Stars, AMERICANS CAN”

Alisa Toninato, “Made in America”

As you can see, my personal position influenced my perspective when walking around the city of Grand Rapids. However, these elements were clearly apparent to others who I spoke with during my visit. The more I saw the ArtPrize orange signage around the city, the more aware I was of what I was directed to focus on and, on the flip side, what was allowed to be passed by.

Stay tuned for my next post here on Hyperallergic, where I share “THE BEST OF WHAT YOU DIDN’T SEE” at ArtPrize 2011.

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Jeffrey Augustine Songco

Jeffrey Augustine Songco (b. 1983) is a multidisciplinary artist based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University and an MFA from San Francisco Art Institute. He would like...

5 replies on “The Top 6 Trends at ArtPrize”

    1. I understand what Paddy’s saying but the same thing can be said about propaganda or food.  I think that reasoning falls into the po-mo trap of making stuff over-pluralist (I know its not a word but you know what I mean).  Its probably why she was so reticent to settle w/ that conclusion.  I’m thinking the situation is actually somewhere in between: while different people need and demand different things from art, there is also art that universally sucks.  And some of it is in Michigan right now.   

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