Before You Go wins $50,000 grand prize at ArtPrize 2021

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The public grand prize winner of ArtPrize 2021, which earned its creators $50,000, is an audio installation that collects and shares personal stories of diverse people.

Before You Go by son and mother team Christian Reichle and Monica Pritchard of Grand Rapids is displayed on the Blue Bridge.

“I’m elated. Oh, my gosh! I don’t even know what to say,” an overwhelmed and crying Pritchard said upon learning they had won.

“Very, very grateful. Very grateful for the opportunity to be here, for everybody that’s helped us make this happen and make the project happen,” Reichle told News 8 moments after their win.

The piece is a phone booth where people can hear excerpts from interviews. Its creators say that the work “seeks to spark thought and conversation within a diverse group of people from multiple generations while exploring topics surrounding life, death and our collective hopes, dreams and regrets within them.”

The pair said the piece was inspired, in part, by the recent death of a family member.

“(The death) has encouraged us to want to reach out and encourage other people to have the conversation that we would all like to have but don’t always get the chance to,” Reichle said.

He added it was wonderful to see people interact with the piece.

“It has been so gratifying to see people, the excitement of kids and parents interacting with the phone booth for the first time and seeing the various emotions evoked from people of all ages inside the booth,” Reichle said.

The work was supported by a grant from the ArtPrize committee. Pritchard said it was such an undertaking that there were times they thought they wouldn’t get it done, but they ultimately pushed through with help from local organizations that helped facilitate the interviews.

“We had over 100 people involved in the interviews for the projects and all of those people made Before You Go what it is,” Reichle said.

The winner of ArtPrize 2021 was announced Friday evening during a special program on WOOD TV8. ArtPrize remains underway through the weekend, so you can still head out and see Before You Go. If you can’t get to the piece, you can also call 1.888.665.2036 to hear some of the interviews.

ArtPrize returned with a flourish this year for the first time since 2018, drawing art, artists and art-lovers to downtown Grand Rapids. There were pieces small and large, many of them outdoors in deference to the coronavirus pandemic and plenty of them inspired by COVID-19 or recent calls for social justice. The event was also a much-needed boon to local shops and restaurants, which have struggled through the pandemic.

With a new prize structure, the massive art competition this year distributed money to more artists than ever before. In years past, cash has been split among only the top pieces. This year, ArtPrizegoers had the chance to send chunks of $150,000 in prizes to any piece they liked using the event’s website. Through Thursday, some 200 artists were handed a piece of the pie — some of them collecting thousands of dollars. Another 24 prizes will be available in the final weekend of ArtPrize.

The online engagement also determined the public grand prize winner.

JURIED AWARDS

There was only one big public award as the competition did away with public category winners, but there were still juried category awards.

Jurors selected one winner and one honorable mention in each of four categories: 2D, 3D, installation and time-based. Winners received $10,000 and honorable mentions $2,500.

TWO-DIMENSIONAL

WINNER: “AGING OUT / 18 YEARS OLD” BY JOHN PAUL GONCALVES
Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation

This piece, by an artist who won the public vote 2D category award in 2016, draws attention to those who go through the foster care system and the struggles they face after they “age out” — or turn 18 and leave the system.

“At ArtPrize, you often want to be surprised, you expect to be surprised, and this piece did that,” juror Omari Rush, the executive director of Detroit arts and culture nonprofit CultureSource and the governor-appointed chair of the Michigan Council for Carts and Cultural Affairs, said. “It was a two-dimensional presentation of tiny, watercolored squares that, when the light turned on, revealed a portrait, revealed a portrait of someone who was in the foster care system. At the bottom of the piece, there was some statistic about their life achievement expectations, what they might do, and the square tiles were presented in a way that also reflected a certain kind of graph. It was completely amazing that when the light was off, these tiny squares looked just like squares. There was no sense about what was there. And then the light popped on after 18 seconds — which in itself was a beautiful way to tie back to the title of the piece — all the sudden this portrait of a young person was revealed that really pulled you in, was really gripping.

“Just conceived beginning to end, was smart and thoughtful and engaging,” Rush continued, “and also a technique that I had not seen in any of the other work in the show this year.”

HONORABLE MENTION: “ASK THE ANIMALS AND THEY WIL…” BY T.J. LICK
DeVos Place Convention Center

“Ask the Animals and They Wil…” by T.J. Lick, displayed at DeVos Place Convention Center during ArtPrize 2021. (Michael Buck/WOOD TV8)

Rush said what drew him to the work was its centerpiece portrait of a water buffalo.

“The honorable mention piece was breathtaking, I mean, frankly and directly. When you walked in front of this blue-gray ox and you could see this incredible detail of this painting that at times felt photorealistic but also at times felt illustrated, it was just really amazing,” Rush said. “All art doesn’t have to send some deep or intense social message — and this didn’t do that for me. It was just a great work to look at and a real achievement for T.J. Lick.”

“The format was very large and that really pulled me in in a way,” he continued. “It was in contrast to a set of other animal paintings around it … that allowed me to understand that it was standing out because the composition felt really special, the detail of the painting felt very special.”

Animals are usually a popular subject among ArtPrize entries. This year, Rush said, he saw lots of tigers.

“But this one, again, in the detail and its presentation, just rose above all else,” he said.

THREE-DIMENSIONAL

WINNER: SOAKED BY HOLLY ROSS
DeVos Place Convention Center

This ceramic likeness of a wet cardboard box is meant to capture the personal story of common and overlooked objects.

Soaked by Holly Ross, displayed at DeVps Place Convention Center during ArtPrize 2021. (Michael Buck/WOOD TV8)

“I’m really excited about this piece,” juror Samantha Bankle Schefman, the co-owner of PLAYGROUND DETROIT, a gallery and agency for local artists, said. “It is a smaller work, but it is very outstanding.

“It had great humor to it. It was … just exquisitely, perfectly crafted. The detail on it is really, really outstanding,” she continued. “I think she is smart and funny really, really just a great craftsperson.”

She said she hopes the award can help support Ross’ career and hopes to see more from her in the future.

HONORABLE MENTION: SWORD IN THE SPHINX BY VIRGINIA MONTGOMERY
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

“It has a very strong presence,” Schefman said. “It represents Madame de Pompadour on top, which is a French mistress, and the bottom is a sphinx. So it is a nod to French gardens, but more importantly, it’s really about the power of women. And she has a sword in her back. So a lot of Virginia’s work is really about female representation in the art world and what sort of power that they have in that space.”

Sword in the Sphinx by Virginia Montgomery, displayed at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park for ArtPrize 2021. (Michael Buck/WOOD TV8)

Schefman said the piece was beautifully crafted and supported by more of Montgomery’s collection displayed elsewhere at Meijer Gardens.

She said she chose Montgomery as her honorable mention to amplify and support her voice in the art world.

“She has a unique vision and I think it’s whimsical and fun, and so I think not only is she creating a soapbox for women … some of the other pieces, they’re very phallic and so it’s kind of pushing people in an uncomfortable corner; this one’s much more whimsical and easy to digest, to be fair,” Schefman said. “And so I would be very happy to meet any woman who’s really creating a space like that.”

INSTALLATION

WINNER: PROJECT UNITY: TEN MILES OF TRACK IN ONE DAY BY HWA-JEEN NA AND YUGE ZHOU
Ah-Nab-Awen Park

Project Unity is a circular installation that displays a projection of the American West as though seen from a train, along with the names of some of the 20,000 Chinese emigrants who built the western half of the railroad.

“I think a number of people who are jurors and folks involved in ArtPrize, we’ve all talked about that work. It seemed to be one of the most powerful pieces that was maybe submitted to this prize this year,” juror Shannon Stratton, the executive director of the Ox-Bow School of Art in Saugatuck, said.

“What was really powerful about that work was that there had been this research component of uncovering a lot of those names of those laborers that had been lost to history and naming them and surrounding the viewer with those names,” Stratton continued. “And I think one of the things that I found so effective about it is that the way the names are floating in the landscape kind of reminds me of the Hollywood sign. … The names have this way of speaking to kind of fame or the way that the Hollywood sign is kind of this American symbol of fame and glory, and of course that’s where the railroad ends, and so these names are given this kind of gravitas to be fairly understood within an American vernacular idea of popular culture. So I thought that was super smart. Maybe that was on purpose, maybe that was an accident, but it was really impactful.”

She also commented on how the projection evokes a zoetrope, combining modern technology with a nod to technology that was emerging when the railroad was built.

“They really nailed it in terms of making something that’s incredibly smart and well-researched and powerful and emotional, but also very well-conceived in terms of their marriage of those ideas with the way they worked material and technically,” Stratton said.

She said she was excited to see where else the installation could travel and live in historically relevant locations.

HONORABLE MENTION: ILE ITAJA- SHOPPINGLIST BY OLANIYI R. AKINDIYA AKIRASH
Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation

This sculptural installation is meant to resemble a corner grocery store. It’s built with empty boxes from groceries like cereal, rice and soda.

“(Akirash) created that piece after spending probably the last 18 months or so of the pandemic collecting and delivering groceries for people who couldn’t do that for themselves,” Stratton explained. “They started to reflect upon both food insecurity and … how access to food during a pandemic was maybe a lot more precarious, maybe, for some people.”

“I saw something pretty wonderful about what it means to be committed to one’s community and to help contribute to other people’s survival and care in a moment of need,” Stratton continued.

Stratton said she was drawn to the piece because it was ambitious and because it spoke to “the conditions of the last 18 months” — not necessarily coronavirus specifically, but “anybody who was just touching on what it was like to live on this planet for the last 18 months.”

TIME-BASED

WINNER: ART POD BY STEPHEN SMITH
Monroe Center near Rosa Parks Circle

This curated piece included a number of installations and performances that happened throughout ArtPrize.

“It was ever-changing,” juror Asia Hamilton, a photojournalist and fine artist who owns Norwest Gallery in Detroit, said.

“I definitely enjoyed the constant interchanging of art that’s going on that space. It’s very much alive. With that, there was so many various different genres of art: We had video, we had trap tap, they had live art, they had just all of these various components to engage the community,” Hamilton continued. “And that’s what art is about; it’s about engaging your audience and getting them involved and excited about the work.”

HONORABLE MENTION: “IN MY DREAMS WE LEVITATE” BY ELI KAHN, ERIC FRIEDLANDER AND JORDAN HAMILTON
Muse GR

“It was an amazing experience. It’s a fully immersive sound installation, like a full composure of music,” Hamilton said. “And you are definitely levitating in that space. It’s just an ascension of music that continues to rise. I really enjoyed the piece because it was very meditative.”

“It definitely gave me a feeling. Art that evokes an emotion or makes you feel something or when you walk away with some type of knowing or some type of feeling that is familiar to you, it definitely pulls your heart strings,” Hamilton continued. “That, and also the sound moved me.”

She added the location was perfect for the entry, without a lot of sound pollution that would have distracted from the work.

INDEPENDENT AWARDS

A few organizations backed independent awards. Each of the three awards had two winners, each of whom received $2,000.

The Contemporary Black Art Award was supported by the Grand Rapids African American Arts and Music Festival and the city of Grand Rapids. A panel of four reviewed ArtPrize works by 55 African American artists, considering the art and the artist’s history, to decide who won. Lisa Knight, the board chair of the festival, said there were so many wonderful and heartfelt pieces that it was difficult to choose only two winners.

“It’s very exciting to be able to see these artists and the gifts and talents that they bring and hopefully to be able to present that to the community and help them look a little bit deeper when we begin to think about art and talent and skill and people in those spaces and what they bring to the table,” Knight said.

“PLANTED BY THE SACRED STREAMS OF GRACE” BY BRIAN WHITFIELD
Monroe Community Church

This mural, the title of which references a Bible passage, shows a tree that also resembles people fed by the sun and a stream.

“Planted by the Sacred Streams of Grace” by Brian Whitfield, displayed at Monroe Community Church during ArtPrize 2021. (Michael Buck/WOOD TV8)

“‘Planted by the Sacred Streams of Grace’ really touched into the heart and soul when you think of our spirituality and how we’re all connected and how this world is created and how we interact with one another,” Knight said. “It was truly thought-provoking.”

She went on to say it made her think of the hardship and heartbreak of the last 18 months.

“But also knowing that there is a place where there’s a relief, there’s a release and a freedom from the pain of what we may be suffering through in the present time,” Knight said.

ILE ITAJA- SHOPPINGLIST BY OLANIYI R. AKINDIYA AKIRASH
Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation

“Being able to see that presentation that he had of all of these things put together was very riveting for me. It made me really thing deeply about who I was and how that actually impacted me,” Knight said, going on to say the piece was “intriguing to look at.”

Ile Itaja – Shoppinglist by Olaniyi R. Akindiya Akirash, installed at the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation during ArtPrize 2021. (Michael Buck/WOOD TV8)

The Artista Latino Award, presented by the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, was selected by public engagement.

Guardians of Sacred Space by Florencia Clement de Grandprey
DeVos Place Convention Center

“Guardians of Sacred Space” by Florencia Clement de Grandprey, displayed at DeVos Place during ArtPrize 2021. (Michael Buck/WOOD TV8)

The 20th of January (Lunar Eclipse over Grand Rapids) by Russell Cooper
Palatte Coffee & Art

“The 20th of January (Lunar Eclipse over Grand Rapids)” by Russell Cooper, displayed at Palatte Coffee & Art for ArtPrize 2021. (Michael Buck/WOOD TV8)

The Asian Art Award, presented by the West Michigan Asian American Association, was selected by public engagement.

Before You Go by Christian Reichle and Monica Prichard
The Blue Bridge

Before You Go by Christian Reichle and Monica Pritchard, displayed on the Blue Bridge during ArtPrize 2021. (Michael Buck/WOOD TV8)

Paper Cinderella by Michal Overholts
Oh, Hello Co. Paper & Gifts

Paper Cinderella by Michel Overholts, displayed at Oh, Hello Co. Paper & Gifts for ArtPrize 2021. (Sept. 30, 2021)

Jimmy Cobb of Muskegon won the Design and Drive contest, in which artists created pieces for display on cars. He won a two-year lease of a 2022 Honda Civic from West Michigan Honda Dealers. Design and Drive finalists were displayed along Monroe Center.

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