Officially opening today, Art Prize is a unique art festival and contest — perhaps one of the most democratic iterations of an art fair out there. The unlikely locale of Grand Rapids, Michigan becomes a playground for artists. Any part of downtown is fair game to use as a venue — no gallery endorsement needed — and anyone, regardless of their resume, can qualify as an exhibitor. The art projects are on view for two weeks while the public votes on which artist will be awarded the large cash prize. For her entry, artist Crystal Wagner created two installations in the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts using household items (plastic table cloths and chicken wire are two of her signature materials) to weave two enormous, sprawling sculptures in the venue’s entrance and along the south staircase.
Intrigued by the divide between civilization and the natural world, Wagner envisioned the fluorescent, biomorphic shapes as the forces of nature reclaiming their territory. In her work, the natural and the manmade don’t seem opposed. Instead, artificial materials playfully take on plantlike qualities, expanding over the rigid architecture. She seamlessly juxtaposes manufacturing and biology, tying it together with something that perhaps represents an intermediary between the two: handmade craft. Yet the fluorescent plastic, with its acidic colors, can’t help but remind one of a sort of insidious pollution. Wagner’s works sit on the brink of trepidation and ecstasy, indulging the viewers’ imaginations while keeping us grounded with a stark reminder of environmental destruction.
The winner of Art Prize will be announced on October 10 and the artworks will be on view through October 12 throughout downtown Grand Rapids.