Copyright © Edward Riojas
I received an invitation to participate in ArtPrize 2022 ages ago, but this artist won't be joining the competition. I know that makes me a pooper, but such comes with the territory of a self-styled art curmudgeon. I have, however, good reasons to avoid the hoopla.
For starters, my wife gave a rather impressive fist pump when I made the same decision two years ago. That was the last "normal" ArtPrize – when the competition wasn't an off-year attempt to dress up downtown Grand Rapids with ugly sweaters of iffy, public art. But I digress.
That fist pump was in response to the massive time-suck involved in first creating a piece, then jumping through hoops to secure a venue, dragging the piece down to that venue, hanging around that same venue for two-plus weeks, and then dragging the piece back home. Oh, sure, I usually came home with a prize: A nasty case of influenza from plopping myself down in the world's biggest petri dish.
And then came Covid.
Another reason for avoiding ArtPrize is the willy-nilly attitude of the powers that be who run the show. "Let's create a massive, yearly art spectacle for the masses in a small area. Well, let's not make it entirely for the masses – let's make it partially for art snobs. And let's spread it out a bit so hoity-toity art venues can join in the fun. And airports. Let's take some of the prize purse and give it to venues. Especially ones that will win every year. Let's be irresponsible with the funds and cut the prizes. Let's invite musicians and street performers, because we don't understand what the visual arts really are. Artists don't need incentives like goody bags, so let's give them a goody bottle of water. Even if they can drink water from a goody drinking fountain. Let's not do it every year, because that costs too much – we'll do it every other year, and do something different on the odd years to confuse the masses. They're already confused about art, anyway."
The bottom line is: They originally created something fantastic but couldn't leave well enough alone, so now it's an embarrassment.
Speaking of embarrassments, the whole world has clearly become embarrassed for the competition, and the real international talent is now avoiding us. Sure, ArtPrize statistics show that international participation is growing, but there's nothing to stop lame artists from plopping down pesos or kronor or rubles and thereby be considered international "talent." Once a recognized international artist is forced to face off with a crappy piece of art created with 10 million sequins – and loses – it's understandable that they would rather seek a stage elsewhere on the planet.
Art competitions like the Turner Prize and the Kandinsky Prize have such prestige that inclusion in those events is a massive prize in itself. ArtPrize, on the other hand, had to throw bucket-loads of cash to lure such talented artists. But even amounts close to a quarter-million dollars won't entice them anymore – not when sequins are involved.
It's also clearly evident that art has taken a backseat to agenda in ArtPrize. If you don't support the latest stupid cause or fly a rainbow flag or are the correct shade of non-white or rally to the correct side of the political aisle, then apparently you are no artist. Especially if you don't like sequins. If, however, you vaguely represent conventionalism, representationalism, or religion, then surely you don't belong. Never mind the fact that the Church and classical art carried such sorry-excuse-of-artists, kicking and screaming, to this present day. I've heard, while standing next to my sacred "Adoremus" piece, that "Religious pieces should not be allowed." Sequins, I suspect, were somewhere behind that comment.
Some may accuse me of elevating art too far above the mundane; of expecting too much of artists; of believing that the visual arts are worthy of being held to the highest standards. I cannot, however, be accused of being a pooper. That title goes to the septic waste that persistently oozes into the nooks and crannies of ArtPrize. When it comes down to the pitfalls of ArtPrize, some of us are simply tired of the stench.