Rick Devos’s ArtPrize Sparks Plenty of Anti-Trump Art, But a Work Invoking Diversity Wins the Biggest Award
Richard Schlatter was the people's choice while the judges favored Seitu Jones.
The ninth edition of ArtPrize, the annual public art exhibition and competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan, came to a close this weekend, but not before handing out $500,000 in prizes. Artists Seitu Jones and Richard Schlatter each took home a $200,000 grand prize, the former selected by a three-judge panel of experts, the latter in a public vote.
On September 23, Jones staged the performance The Heartside Community Meal, seating 250 neighborhood residents at a 300-foot-long table for a locally grown communal dinner. The artist intended for the piece to show how food and art can help foster understanding and appreciation of other cultures, illuminating our similarities to one another and helping to celebrate society’s diversity.
“Seitu Jones shows us how artists can have an expanded social and political role,” said Kevin Buist, ArtPrize exhibitions director, in a statement. “Jones crafted this artwork by deftly orchestrating a network of individuals and organizations to create a poetic and fleeting monument to the power of community. For many, it’s a new way to think about what art can be: The artwork is one big, beautiful moment made of the many small moments that happen when strangers and friends share a meal.”
Schlatter’s A Lincoln is an eight-by-12-foot portrait of Abraham Lincoln, crafted entirely from 24,000 pennies, which have featured the 16th president’s visage since 1909. The artist, the top vote-getter among the over 384,000 ballots cast during the 19-day contest, made a point of including at least one coin from every year since.
“Though this work depicts an image we’ve seen before in myriad ways, when we see it at this epic scale we’re invited to stop and reflect on our 16th president who set in motion the abolition of slavery in the United States,” said ArtPrize executive director Christian Gaines in a statement, noting that voters had once again shown their appreciation for “patience, skill, and considerable labor.”
Founded in 2009 by tech entrepreneur Rick DeVos, ArtPrize was the subject of increased interest this year, following the controversial appointment of his mother, Betsy DeVos, as education secretary by President Donald Trump.
Several works submitted to ArtPrize were critical of the president, most notably Molly Alicki Corriveau’s Presidental Pin Cushion, a six-and-a-half-foot-tall cotton-stuffed sculpture of Trump. It was displayed next to a sign reading “Donald Trump LIES, RANTS, and SPEWS HATE,” encouraging viewers to stick the sculpture with push pins to “GIVE the POTUS A POKE!” Although many were happy to participate, others found the artwork disrespectful, according to Fox News.
Other anti-Trump artworks entered into the contest included E.J. Cobb’s Fixed It for You, a performance in which the artist vented frustrations about Trump by editing the president’s speeches and remarks and hanging them on the window; and paintings Complicit by Eric Westra and Blackface Trump: Accountable? by Esan Sommersell.
The contest is divided into two-dimensional, three-dimensional, time-based, and installation categories, with $12,500 prizes for both the judge and public picks in all of them. The judges also award “best venue”—any business or organization in downtown Grand Rapids is invited to participate—while ArtPrize partner organizations hand out the final $30,000 in prizes for 12 additional categories.
The judges were Gaëtane Verna, director of the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto; Christopher Scoates, director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum in Detroit; and Gia Hamilton, director at the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans.
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