The Rapidian

The ArtPrize Experience

A review of the film The ArtPrize Experience
Underwriting support from:
Filmmaker Sam Klee at the Grand Rapids Film Festival 2011

Filmmaker Sam Klee at the Grand Rapids Film Festival 2011 /Samantha Dine

Artists David Huang & Debra Reid Jenkins, both featured in the film

Artists David Huang & Debra Reid Jenkins, both featured in the film

The Film and its Maker

The 2011 Grand Rapids Film Festival has come and gone this past week. I was able to take in just one of the many films offered, "The ArtPrize Experience" by Sam Klee. This 45 minute film chronicled ArtPrize 2010 from the perspective of four local artists and included interviews with Mayor George Heartwell and Rick DeVos, the founder of ArtPrize. 

The film shows the viewer each artist’s piece: from the conception to the finished product, to the interactions with the public and finally, to the public awards ceremony. Spoiler alert: none of the featured artists make it to the Top 10, but that doesn't make any of their journeys less engaging to watch. 

Equally engaging is the filmmaker himself, Sam Klee. When the lights came up, I expected to see either a hipster-ish college student or a mid 30's man in a baseball cap. Apparently I subscribe to some filmmaker stereotypes. Instead, I was surprised to see an earnest 18 year old smiling politely and answering questions. 

Klee chose ArtPrize as his first film venture because "it's easy to get into because it is so new."  He explained his planning process for the film, "I went through the list of artists over three days, then got down to 30 artists, then four, all who were open to being followed for three months."

Klee summed up the film as "a really great experience. I didn't think I would get the access I did but everyone was very open and very receptive. I definitely learned a lot from it."

Klee, who is entering his senior year as a home school student, plans to take the film to several film festivals throughout the Midwest. Currently a nine minute clip can be viewed on YouTube, with plans for further distribution still in the works.

The Artists

In 2010, 1713 artists participated in ArtPrize across 192 venues, competing for a $250,000 first place prize. Klee's film followed four of these hopefuls.

The first of the four artists depicted was Matthew Hutchinson, who has a passion for wood turning. His cherry log vase made it into the top 50.  Hutchinson will be participating in ArtPrize 2011, showing his piece "Septarillion" which will be featured at Green Lion Gallery.

The second artist was Debra Reid Jenkins, who submitted an oil painting of a beach scene on Lake Michigan. In the film she stated that she hoped "that people experience this piece like a moment in a movie, where they stop and get caught up in the moment." She will be participating in ArtPrize 2011, showing her work at Peaches Bed and Breakfast.

The third featured artist was David Huang, a metalsmith, who works primarily with copper. His 2010 piece, "Radiant Efflorescence" placed in the top 25 during ArtPrize 2010. Huang said that "being an artist is an all-encompassing dream job." He spent between ten and 14 hours a day hammering metal to get his piece prepared for ArtPrize 2010. He will be entering "Numinous Community" into ArtPrize 2011, a collection of 12-24 metal vessels with golden interiors, which will be featured at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. 

The final artist from the film was Pete Fecteau, who created what was at that  time the world's largest Rubik's Cube mosaic. Fecteau chose to use Martin Luther King Jr. as a subject because the idea came to him in a dream, which parallels with King's famous "I have a dream" speech. Fecteau liked the idea of combining Martin Luther King Jr. and Rubik's Cubes, which were invented after King's lifetime, saying, "I am bringing him up to speed with contemporary toys."  Fecteau's piece placed in the top 50 during ArtPrize 2010.

Artprize and Me

Before the first year of ArtPrize, I never had a real interest in or understanding of art. As a non-artist and novice art appreciator, I didn't really grasp the time and artistry that goes into these works. If a piece wasn't immediately visually appealing to me; I left it without giving any further consideration. I worried I wasn't able to connect to their messages, that something was always lost in translation.

I think my a-ha moment happened during that first year, standing inside a pink frosting installation, bouncing on pink carpet, and sniffing the walls to see if they smelled like cake. I got a new side to art: art that made me want to keep looking at it, that challenged my perceptions, art that was fun and accessible, not something I had to study to understand. I got to be in on it.

Which for me is the great thing about ArtPrize: I don't have to speak the language. I interpret the pieces through my own critical lens and I get to share my pedestrian opinions, and everyone else has the same opportunity.

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Cue circus music.

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