Most of the year, the art world’s attention is focused on the big, international cities: New York, London, Miami Beach, LA, Basel, etc. But starting in the fall of 2009, ArtPrize put the lesser-known city of Grand Rapids, Michigan on the art world map. ArtPrize quickly became famous in part for its openness — anyone over 18 may enter their artwork; in part for its voting style — often described as American Idol–like, with anyone allowed to register and vote; and in part for the large sums of money it gives away — $200,000 for the winner of the public vote, another $160,000 for the others in the public top 10, plus a new $100,000 Grand Juried prize this year and five more $20,000 juried awards in specific categories. That’s a whole lot of prize money.

Did we also mention that there are 1,157 entries spread out over 161 venues? That’s a whole lot of art.

ArtPrize announced its short list this week, which includes both the top 25 works from the public vote and five juror picks in five different categories: 2-D, 3-D, Urban Space, Time/Performance-Based, and Venue (which we’ll be ignoring, since the venues aren’t artworks). Interestingly, there’s some overlap between the various critical lists: two artworks appear on two different lists. Excitingly, there’s also interplay between the critical and popular realms, with three pieces currently included in both groups (the critics’ lists are set, but public voting continues through tomorrow night). Who said crowd-sourcing doesn’t work?!

Even with a narrowed-down selection, though, anyone looking to see what’s going on in Grand Rapids still has nearly 50 artworks on her hands. So we’ve sorted through the lengthy short list to highlight some of our favorites and some of the most popular. We’ve also picked up on a major theme! (Hint: the people like animals.) The top 10 winners of the public vote will be announced at an event at 1 pm this Sunday, Sept. 30, at which point another round of voting commences until October 4 — at which point the winners will be announced!

Take a look at some of the nominees below, and if you’re in the area, in addition to seeing the art, make sure to visit the Critical Discourse panel on Sunday night, featuring our very own Hrag Vartanian.

Robert Coombs, “Disabilities and Sexuality”

2-D Short List (Juror: Tyler Green)

Robert Coombs, a photograph from the series "Disabilities and Sexuality"

Robert Coombs, a photograph from the series “Disabilities and Sexuality” (image via Flickr/Robert Andy Coombs)

Robert Coombs is showing a series of evocative, black-and-white nude photographs of disabled people. Coombs, who is himself disabled, wants to humanize these people by focusing on their sexuality.

Alois Kronschlaeger, “Habitat”

2-D and 3-D Short Lists (3-D Juror: Lisa Freiman)

Alois Kronschlaeger's Moose Diorama, part of his installation "Habitat"

Alois Kronschlaeger’s Moose Diorama, part of his installation “Habitat” (image via

Alois Kronschlaeger has intervened in the former Grand Rapids Public Museum, bringing the Mammal Hall to life with an installation that plays with the wolf, moose, beaver, and other animal dioramas and even lets viewers enter some of them.

Martijn van Wagtendonk, “Song of Lift”

3-D Short List and Top 25 Public Vote

Martijn van Wagtendonk, "Song of Lift"

Martijn van Wagtendonk, “Song of Lift” (image via

One of three popular/critical crossovers, Martijn van Wagtendonk’s “Song of Lift” is an opera in the form of a kinetic sculpture. A 14-armed circular structure hangs from the ceiling, with pairs of wings hanging down from 12-foot arms. The viewer deposits a quarter in a machine to set the piece in motion.

Mike Simi, “Mr. Weekend”

3-D and Time-Based Short Lists (Time-Based Juror: Cathy Edwards)

Mike Simi, "Mr. Weekend"

Mike Simi, “Mr. Weekend” (image via

Mike Simi has transformed a Nachi robotic arm from an old Detroit Chrysler plant into a 15-foot-tall sock puppet that talks. “My name is Mr. Weekend,” he says. “I think I am a piece of art.”

Hillerbrand+Magsamen, “Whole”

Time-Based Short List

Hillerbrand+Magsamen, video still from "Whole"

Hillerbrand+Magsamen, video still from “Whole” (image via

Hillerbrand+Magsamen have combined the music and aesthetics of Hollywood cinema with a homemade epic adventure. The husband-and-wife team, along with their children, cut holes in their home and move through it with intensity and humor.

Katharine Renee Gaudy, Installation

Urban Space Short List (Juror: Susan Szenasy)

Katharine Renee Gaudy, installation

Katharine Renee Gaudy, installation (image via

Katharine Renee Gaudy made this light yet monumental installation — which covers roughly seven and a half stories — out of paper scraps. On her blog, she calls it “an open link to the sublime.”

Dale Rogers, “Flight”

Urban Space Short List and Top 25 Public Vote

Dale Rogers, "Flight"

Dale Rogers, “Flight” (image via

Another one of the public and critic’s picks, Dale Rogers’s “Flight” features nine stainless steel birds hovering over bypassers in a park. Rogers says he wants the piece to convey “the balance between fear and freedom,” which makes sense, since the birds weigh over 200 pounds each.

Richard Morse, “Stick-to-it-ive-ness: Unwavering pertinacity; perseverance”

Urban Space Short List and Top 25 Public Vote

Richard Morse, "Stick-to-it-ive-ness: Unwavering pertinacity; perseverance"

Richard Morse, “Stick-to-it-ive-ness: Unwavering pertinacity; perseverance” (image via

The final crossover choice, Richard Morse’s installation also depicts a group of animals, this time running horses constructed from metal and salvaged tree branches. Note the animal theme creeping into the popular vote selections. More on this later.

Andrea Kowch, “Sojourn”

Top 25 Public Vote

Andrea Kowch, "Sojourn"

Andrea Kowch, “Sojourn” (image via Facebook)

Andrea Kowch’s acrylic on canvas “Sojourn” is one of only a handful of two-dimensional works included in the public’s top 25. The painting has a wonderfully eerie and gothic quality to it.

Gabriel Dawe, “Plexus No. 18”

Top 25 Public Vote

Gabriel Dawe, "Plexus No. 18"

Gabriel Dawe, “Plexus No. 18” (image via

We’ve written about him before, so we were excited to see one of Gabriel Dawe’s installations on the top 25 public list. Dawe creates mesmerizing color spectrums from miles of sewing thread.

Special Public Vote Spotlight: Animals

Scrolling through the list of the most popular 25 artworks, it’s impossible to avoid the overwhelming presence of animals, be they extinct, mythical, or somewhere around us. From dragons to dinosaurs, mammals to sea creatures, they abound. In fact, roughly half of the artworks in the group features at least one type of animal, while another handful are landscapes or nature scenes. If that wasn’t enough, the truly au courant style this year seems to be animals fashioned from recycled or salvaged materials. See: the recycled dragon, recycled dinosaur, recycled miscellaneous animal group including polar bear and walrus, salvaged fish, and another recycled animal group made to look like taxidermy.

We’re not sure what exactly to take away from this, but we’re quite happy that artists are being kind to the environment. ArtPrize 2013, co-sponsored by PETA?!

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...