The local news station set up shop in the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

The local news station set up shop in the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

After revealing the Top 6 trends of ArtPrize from my position as a participating ArtPrize artist, I wanted to compose a second blog post for Hyperallergic that revealed the Top 10 Things I genuinely found interesting during this art event experience.

It’s an absolute treat to be a trend-spotter but sometimes the real moment of absolute art nirvana comes when you’re not looking for it. For me, the orange signage pointing viewers to ArtPrize works of art almost always pointed to something completely expected. It was the breaks between these directed gazes in Grand Rapids that illuminated my art dérive and solidified my personal perspective on this thing we all call life.

1. Boxed Water

Boxed Water

Boxed Water

Get it while it’s … in a box. At big art events, there’s always some fetish object/souvenir carried about town: a shot of Eduardo Sarabia’s tequila at the Whitney, a cup of Illy espresso in Venice and at ArtPrize, it’s boxed water.

I can’t believe Grand Rapids beat San Francisco to the sustainable-paper-recycled-material-container shtick, but hey, California also passed Prop 8, so stranger things have happened.

2. Balloon Check

balloon check

A Balloon check

Not since my undergrad days at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and my almost monthly trips to the Mattress Factory where I removed my shoes and wore hospital-like booties before entering Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Dots Mirrored Room” permanent installation have I been so weirded out by an institution’s request of its viewers. Before entering the Grand Rapids Art Museum, I had to check my balloon. I didn’t have a balloon to check. I was sad for the rest of the day.

3. People Doing People Things

people sitting in chairs

people sitting in chairs

people walking on structures

people walking on structures

One of my previous six Trends was “animals doing animal things.” For this post, I’m mesmerized by people doing people things. Did you know if you put a bunch of swivel chairs together in front of a television, people will activate the space? The version I saw was a like a poorly executed, bland Renée Green installation. My favorite people-doing-people-things piece were these men dressed as construction workers and walking along the roof of a wooden structure.

4. This is Not an ArtPrize Piece

so much signage

so much signage

a little nod to Magritte

a little nod to Magritte

To Go Up, or Not To Go Up

To Go Up, or Not To Go Up

As I’ve already mentioned, the orange signage that directed viewers to the ArtPrize entries were distractions in and of themselves, so much so for me that I often looked away from its direction. Two non-orange signs were particularly awesome to me because it clarified the notion that this two-week event in Grand Rapids was mainly about ArtPrize and not art.

5. References to the Venice Biennale

September issue of ArtForum in the ArtPrize Artists' Lounge

September issue of ArtForum in the ArtPrize Artists’ Lounge

illy sugar packets

Illy sugar packets

Grand Rapids' Grand River and bridge

Grand Rapids’ Grand River and bridge

Grand Rapids' Grand River and another bridge

Grand Rapids’ Grand River and another bridge

I swear I wasn’t purposefully trying to parallel ArtPrize with the Venice Biennale, but it just kept happening! Aside from my awareness as an obvious ethnic minority at both events, the dense concentration of artwork and the surrounding waterscape of Grand Rapids made me feel a little Venetian at times. The VB signs were everywhere, like the September issue of Artform (with coverage of this summer’s VB) in the ArtPrize Artists’ Lounge and the Illy sugar packets (a huge VB sponsor or partner or whatever) at the JW Marriott.

6. What The Truck



One of my hosts during my stay in Grand Rapids took me to the Winchester restaurant, a fantastic establishment that also put their food in a truck that parked in various locations around the city during ArtPrize. Hands down, best food in the city.

7. Bathroom Graphic Design

JW Marriott's lobby bathroom

JW Marriott’s lobby bathroom

I’m a sucker for great graphic design. I go nuts when the sporting event graphic designs are revealed for the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. It was a pleasure to stumble upon these simple single-line designs at the JW Marriott. I’d say the gestural quality of the figures is some of the best design for bathroom signage I’d ever seen.

8. America! For Sale!



This post focuses on the things you “did not” see at ArtPrize, and so its hard to say that you would have missed the bombardment of opportunities to buy your very own ArtPrize dog t-shirt (which yes, I bought for my parents’ dog).  What you may not have seen was the souvenir display at the Gerarld R. Ford Presidential Museum, one of the participating venues at ArtPrize. You may have missed it because it camouflaged so well with one of my picks for Top 6 Trends at ArtPrize: America!

9. The Kiss

The Kiss' understudy

The Kiss’ understudy

Included in last week’s announcement of the Top 10 ArtPrize entries was Robert Shangle’s “Under Construction.” A dude is costumed like a construction worker, covered in bronze paint and freezes for a while so that you can’t tell the difference between him and a statue. (Too bad the construction worker performers from above didn’t submit themselves to ArtPrize. Next year, guys!)

If you live in San Francisco, it’s like that silver-painted guy at Fisherman’s Wharf, standing on a box, frozen and asking for tips. My favorite comment on the ArtPrize blog in regards to the Top 10: “Performance ‘art’ should be left to a different competition or be in a distinct category.”

There’s nothing else remotely close to performance art in the Top 10, unless you count Paul Baliker’s sculpture “Ocean Exodus” on a revolving platform as performance art, or Sunti Pichetchaiyakul working/performing/sculpting a clay bust of Betty Ford next to his actual entry of a bust of Gerald Ford as performance art. Aside from Tony Orrico’s amazing presence at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, I was flabbergasted when I witnessed what I could only call a miracle. It was the highest form of contemporary art I’d seen during my entire trip, though I don’t think it was a legitimate Tino Sehgal piece.

10. The First Advertisement in the ArtPrize Guidebook.

first ad

The first ad.

Ad space is fun space and fun space lets us know how the world works, it’s rules and the simple place we have in that world.  On my plane ride home from Grand Rapids to San Francisco, I whipped out my ArtPrize guidebook in hopes that I’d impress my airplane neighbor, but it didn’t work.

So, as I was flipping through it for the fourth time, I noticed the first ad on the inside cover of the book: an intellectual property counselor with the tag line, “You create it. We protect it.” Sigh. And the color looks like blood dripping on a piece of paper that looks worn and torn and used.

If people need to be scared into making the proper kind of artwork that can be protected, then hey, someone might as well capitalize on assisting them get that coverage. But I say, just make the art and don’t worry about originality or copyright or whatever. Just make it, dude! And then submit it to ArtPrize.

My coverage of ArtPrize for Hyperallergic has been a really fun experience. I’m critically aware that I’m knee-deep in contemporary highbrow fine art to the point that it makes me a bit neurotic when I look around my normal, lowbrow and uninteresting everyday life. Who refers to actual construction workers working their normal day as performers? Me. Who points out two people passionately making out on the steps of the DeVos Ballroom? Me. And that kind of perspective is how Not to make it into the Top 10 of ArtPrize! Stick with animals, America, or images of Jesus, and you’ll definitely be in consideration for the popular vote. Otherwise, kick it with Tony and I and the rest of the intellectually unprotected.

See ya next year, ArtPrize!

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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...