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ArtPrize Controversy! Curator Has Choice Words For “World’s Largest Art Competition” [POLL]

Not everyone loves the spectacle that is ArtPrize. Sure it clogs up Downtown, brings a lot of national attention to the area, and helps plenty of businesses’ bottom lines, but more and more, the questions’ about it’s validity are being asked. Were the lanterns really an art piece? Just what is art anyway? Isn’t it subjective, like what’s good and bad taste?

Now one of the ArtPrize curators is speaking out. Sylvia Rombis, an ArtPrize 2012 artist sent a letter to ArtPrize organizers and WZZM 13, voicing her concerns about the competition. From TV 13, here is that letter.

“Dear Arprize,(sp)

My name is Sylvia Rombis, curator for the Bridging Humanity Sculptural Exhibition for Artprize 2012. I learned of Arprize casually on a side trip to Grand Rapids and was impressed enough to research Artprize 2011. WOW…out of the mouth of babes (Rick DeVoss) and from the heart of our country comes a radical new idea, a democracy for art! “ArtPrize is an international art competition”…great. “Open to any artist and decided by public vote”…heart beats faster. “Promoting critical dialogue and collaboration” … goose bumps! Bridging Humanity sculptural exhibition applies for and connected with the entire Gillette Bridge as the venue. We are on our way to Artprize 2012.

Our Artprize experience is a case study of extremes. We were threatened with disqualification for connecting a company with a food bank to do good in the spirit and mission of Bridging Humanity. The concern was that we were buying votes. The second blow came in the form of the top 25 rankings. As soon as the top 25 information was released, the competition was over for the almost 1500 remaining entries. Thousands of visitors wanted nothing to do with anything other than the top 25 .How did this happen? The event of top 25 or the jurors “short list” was never mentioned in any Artprize materials. The top 25 frenzy, turned out to be one of the most disrespectful and demoralizing acts I have ever experienced in my 25 years as an arts professional. 1500 artists now have nothing to do except have “critical dialogue” with the questioning public about where to find the top 25. The public wants to see winners, and we were now instant losers, even though we were in the top 5%. Artprize, please either stick to your rules and have 2 phases or let us leave after the top 25 are announced. Even better, forget the 10 % component and leave the drama and excitement to the very end, give everyone a fair shake to compete and to be seen. Spending our time and resources to decorating your city is unacceptable. During this excruciating time of “dialogue” with the public, I found that over 90 % of the people I spoke with had NO IDEA that their part in Artprize was to vote their ART OPINION. The majority of those that were actually registered after the 25 listing were under the impression that they could only vote for the top 25. We dutifully answered the where is this, where and how do I vote questions and found ourselves becoming volunteers, the cleanup crew and wayfinder’s for Artprize.

Artprize is young, but that is not an excuse for making bad decisions. The disqualification of The Dragon is a bad decision that should be reversed. Artprize integrity is at stake here. The Dragon is an installation. An installation is a temporary and evolutionary concept…INSTALLING an installation is part of the act of the art, the venue is the other part. When an artist changes the venue and through the artistic act of installing it becomes A BRAND NEW PIECE. It is not 3 years old, it is new. Reverse the decision and redeem Arptize. Why did Arprize not consult your juror “experts”. They know the definition of an art installation…if not, disqualify them.

The Chase on the other hand. MUST BE DISQUALIFIED. It violates 2 official rules of Artprize. Harm of animals and fraudulent misrepresentation.
1. “ArtPrize may disqualify any Entry if it determines, in its sole discretion, that any persons or animals were harmed in the production of such Entry”. As a Taxidermy piece, this needs no explanation.
2. “This 3 dimensional visual portrayal of a scene in nature lets the viewer get into “The Chase” . It is entirely sculpted using clay, foam, steel and paper mache inside the subjects”…how about the outside…these animals were killed, skinned and stuffed for our viewing pleasure as an “art” piece. Willful intent to misrepresent their entry…a fraud.

Lights in the Night must be disqualified. I loved this event; I was there on the Gillette Bridge and participated in the marveling. I voted for it…how could I not vote for our collective “hopes and dreams”! It asks so little of us, just some hoping and dreaming…it offers 20,000 imported Chinese lanterns to marvel at. I suppose the “critical dialog” Artprize asks us to participate in would go like this: Person 1…”ooh”. Person 2…”aah”. But where’s the ART? I feel the same way about fireworks; I have the same dialogue about fireworks but I doubt that we could get fireworks entered as an Artprize piece.

“Think of it as the very large scale version of blowing out the candles and making a wish…only this time you offer up your dreams and hopes for the future or even reconcile events of your past in a symbolic lantern launch. Marvel as thousands of hopes and dreams traverse the sky, silently reaching an unknown destination. It will be a night of inspiration and grace – a spectacle of lights – honoring our residents, our ArtPrize guests”

Light in the Night is a very different concept than when I first met Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Johnson with our common curator Vanessa Kendle in July, on our Gillette Bridge Venue. They spoke of fundraising for charity, they spoke of Make a Wish and Pink Ribbons…we were moved…we offered to partner and cross promote the event. They said sure, a $20,000 sponsorship would required though. This is not art, performance or a catalyst to critical dialogue. There is no mission, no beneficiary and no art. This is a brilliant PR campaign. Win or lose, my bet is that next year, those lanterns will be an advertising campaign. I expect to see the logo of a major corporation artfully printed on every one of the lanterns…the public will demand it…we want to experience our hopes and dreams again… this is PR genius. If Lights in the Night wins…as I think it will, Artprize will be an unwilling participant to the most brilliant PR I have ever seen. $200,000 for 15 minutes of hot air and some hopes and dreams. As cleanup ambassadors for the bridge, we have collected quite a few of the spent lanterns left behind, once our collective hopes and dreams were manifested. Maybe Artprize could auction those. I would also urge the “artists” to honor their initial entry and donate the entire $200,000 to Make a Wish and Pink Ribbon. I highly doubt the revised posted proposal would have gotten Lights in the Night into Artprize.

I have one more suggestion for Artprize. Why oh why did Artprize feel that you needed a group of academic elite to jury your show? Who says that the jurors lend credibility…THEY DO. You veered from you mission of the inversion of the triangle and you created a regular art show. Now that Artprize has the endorsement of academia, we can ponder the brilliant educated observations about juried choices. “Weirdly Wonderful” said one juror, of the 15 foot singing sock puppet…uh, OK. “A thoughtful and sensitive look into gender identity crisis” says another, of photographs showing a woman transforming herself into a man by taping her breasts under her armpits…I am speechless, so much for educated critical dialogue. We all have opinions, but jurors are supposed to enlighten us and bring us a new level of understanding, not new levels of confusion.

In the spirit of humanity though, I want to offer Humanity Prize awards. To the unbelievable and generous people who housed us for free for one month of Artprize! We have the VanEes house keys, but they have the keys our hearts and eternal gratitude for their support and gracious patience. We have made lifetime friends. To our wonderful venue curators Vanessa Kendle and Robert App. Vanessa spent hours on the phone with us, through hundreds of e-mails, page of faxes, she guided us in every step of the process. To Robert App, who stopped by almost every day, and carried hundreds of pounds of sand to the bridge to help stabilize the sculptures against the brutal wind. To the humanity driven leader “CountryFresh” for donating over 22,000 pounds of food to Feeding America, in honor of our mission. To Equity Transportation who sent a 53 foot rig to Cincinnati, to get us to Artprize,at no charge. For the Bridge people who cheered us on every day on their way to and fro. To the people who helped find and retrieve our sculpture after they were vandalized 3 times. To the Artprize visitors who took the time to listen to our story and connect with our mission. Artprize was the catalyst for these connections; this little slice of unbelievable humanity; manifested in tangible good, not hot air “hopes and dreams “and for that, I am thankful!

Sincerely,
Sylvia Rombis
Curator for Bridging Humanty for Artprize 2012

She has many things to say….about the Lanterns, the Dragon and more. What do you think?

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