The Rapidian Home

Wow. That's Bad.

How we can improve ArtPrize: The top ten are out. Naselli talks about curation, location, and four ways that she suggests we might save ArtPrize.
Underwriting support from:

Four ways to save ArtPrize:

  1. Biennial, rather than yearly event.
  2. Two awards: art I like; art that is good.
  3. Limit votes to five votes each.
  4. Restructure curating.
ArtPrize Top 10 artists Robert Shangle and (son) Jasper Shangle perform their entry "Under Construction"

ArtPrize Top 10 artists Robert Shangle and (son) Jasper Shangle perform their entry "Under Construction" /ArtPrize File Photo

The top ten is out. The majority of the pieces are bad. Now what?

ArtPrize has a problem. If this is the kind of work that gets awarded colossal sums of money, then the best and brightest of the art world will not bother. The contest has the potential to be radically subversive. But with a top ten like this, it risks becoming the butt of a joke.

Artists and curators must summon a lot of energy, money, and time to bring art to ArtPrize. If two guys painted gold and perched in a beer garden win $250,000, why would anyone with taste bother? (By the way, there’s someone doing that right now in every major city in the Northern Hemisphere, and passing the hat. Here it merits patronage.)

This year the quality of curating has improved. Even tiny little galleries on the outskirts have pulled together art worth spending time with. Yet this year’s top ten is the worst. How did that happen?

Location has always skewed the voting in ArtPrize. Three of the top ten are at the BOB. Two are at the Public Museum. One at Gerald Ford. One at the GRAM. One on Fulton (which you do not have to get out of your car to see). One at DeVos Place. One at Monroe. All, except the mural on Fulton, are adjacent parking facilities. In one short week you can see what is convenient, not necessarily the best.

Maybe a simple idea is not enough.

Here are four ways we might save ArtPrize.

  1. Make it a biennial. This would give the ArtPrize and arts institutions an opportunity to build educational programs and create a civic mission around what it means to be a city that honors and appreciates emerging artists. It also would give venues and artists a rest and build anticipation and encourage thoughtful preparation for the next competition.
  2. Create two awards: a popular vote for art that you like and another vote for art that is good. This would help voters think through the difference between liking a work of art and discerning good from bad.
  3. Give viewers five votes each to encourage a reasoned choices—weighing and balancing of strengths and weaknesses of favorite pieces.
  4. Restructure the curating so venues have a reason to compete for high quality art. The BOB uses spectacle to drive people into its bar and pad its bottom line. Why not test the location hypothesis? If the BOB hired an excellent curator that brought together great works, what would happen then?

The quality of art is not in the eye of the beholder. Whether you like it is subjective. Whether it is good is another matter. We aren’t born with appreciation for good art, but everyone has the capacity to take it in and be moved by it. Everyone has the capacity to crave work that does more than the last one. We improve by talking about what we think is good, why we think it’s good. We improve by seeing more. As long as the most trafficked exhibit spaces display bad art, most voters won’t know what they are missing.

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.


I just hope like the last two years, they don't fall on deaf ears.  You would think by year three changes like past winners are not eligible to enter again, would be a no-brainer.  

I think there needs to be more discussion about taste which is subjective and the criteria which make an artwork successful ie: good or bad.  The two issues get blurred together too much in the current system as you describe.

There is something about an art event being created by essentially non artists that is to fault from the beginning.  It also points out how wealthy people just like in politics are so out of touch with the common man.  They have been great at creating a huge spectacle and merchandising machine but it surely isn't artist friendly.  If the artwork does not improve more and more serious artists will not enter, leaving the public nothing more to vote for than a human sculpture.

Thank you so much Mara for your thoughtful pieces on artprize.  This is the civil discourse that should be happening.


I'm a redshirt ("ask me") volunteer since the first year.

Just today I helped an MLive commenter understand that the voting could not possibly have been skewed by "bused-in thousands of elementary school children" because one has to be age 16, with picture ID, in order to vote.

Earlier this week I explained voting to some visitors. They'd been handed a card by a Top Ten artist, assumed that it was a ballot, wanted to know where they could find a ballot box.

Yesterday I was chatting with some handsome GRPD on bikes. They asked where visitors can get maps. I explained about exhibition centers. They asked where those might be.

Yep, along with extending the first voting round past a single weekend, A/P has more 'splainin' to do. I love helping out, but what's getting to me is the "crazy crap."

it is like a Simpsons episode.  Lisa is in an uproar "We have two wars going on, an economic crisis not seen since the great depression, looming environmental breakdowns; where is the commentary?  where is the Art?" and then the townspeople drown her out with shouts of "Dog With Ball, Dog With Ball"

Mara, This is exactly why I did not submit my piece Stretch the Strangle Hold, as an artist I feel it is my duty to question the absurdities of our society, thats not to say that one cannot create something entirely for the sake of creating, however artists who do create with a particular message in mind should not be held captive by the majority as it seems to be the case as far as art prize is concerned.


Thanks for the article

Joe Lovett American Painter

Stretch the Strangle Hold