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Artifacts of local history blend with contemporary art

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The Grand Rapids Public Museum displays a multitude of ArtPrize artist among its permanent collections in a manner that highlights and enhances the experience of both.
detail of Lynda Cole's Rain at the Grand Rapids Public Museum

detail of Lynda Cole's Rain at the Grand Rapids Public Museum /Becca Robinett

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Unconventional materials and interactive art are included with the permanent collections

Grand Rapids Public Museum 

Susan Rankin’s Glass Forest, ArtPrize 2011, at the Grand Rapids Public Museum

Susan Rankin’s Glass Forest, ArtPrize 2011, at the Grand Rapids Public Museum /Becca Robinett

By Becca Robinett, Hope College student


Waves of people move among the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s ArtPrize exhibits, which expand into the surrounding environment, including a walk-through installation along the riverbank.

One of the largest venues in the city, the Public Museum features works by thirty-eight artists over 11,000 square feet of exhibition space including the exterior of the museum and each floor of the museum. While the third floor had a large room for the majority of the ArtPrize pieces are located, some are placed among the museum’s semi-permanent displays, in a manner that is unexpected and enhances one’s consideration of both.

Almost all the featured works are colorful, tactile and whimsical. Some were interactive and others were doing an extraordinary job of stealing the attention of children in the room. Two installations that embody this interactive quality are John Melvin’s Alpha/Omega Monument, and Susan Rankin’s Glass Forest. The latter is composed of the unlikely combination of colored glass and oxidized steel pipes. The viewer passing among the work is able to see every angle, and produce a slow swaying movement. Outside the museum, John Melvin’s Alpha/Omega Monument, composed of repurposed industrial materials, seems to compel everyone to contemplate its construction. Children in particular seem to consider Alpha/Omega Monument as a sort of playground, exploring the complex structure and sparking their imaginations.

Additional works were notable for their use of readymade and found materials. Nathan Sawaya’s Yellow, is constructed from yellow plastic toy bricks. Other featured works utilize unconventional materials. Jeremy Tubbs’s “TBA” (Brown Line Approaching) is a 5’ x 9’ two-dimensional image fashioned from duct tape. A final example notable for its unconventional presentation, if not materials, is Lynda Cole’s Rain. Located in the corner of a crowded show room on the third floor, this piece nonetheless stood out because of its ever-changing shimmering nature. Even though the viewer is not permitted to touch it, it moves in response to the audience's movement, hanging from the ceiling like the mobiles of Alexander Calder.

Even though the Grand Rapids Public Museum displayed a multitude of pieces, there was something that united all of the pieces to their setting within the museum’s collection. Other examples include a giant class comic book and an immense painting of a children’s toys. Even within a venue crowded with viewers, the Grand Rapids Public Museum does a wonderful job highlighting the artwork, while enhancing the permanent collection and allowing for comfortable movement.

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