More Than A Mural: Exploring ArtPrize At The Goodspeed Lofts

(Originally written October, 2010)

More Than A Mural: Exploring ArtPrize At The Goodspeed Lofts

By Charles Jurries

While many people waited up to sixty minutes to get inside a venue Sunday afternoon, I waltzed right on in to where I needed to go.

The best part? I was only a few blocks away.

Located in the Heartside District, a stone’s throw away from the Van Andel Arena, is the Goodspeed Lofts. You may recognize it as the building with the psychedelic mural painted on its side, with a giant horse and owl gracing the scene.

Well, if the only important thing in beauty is what is on the inside, then, please, give the Goodspeed Lofts a chance. Walk past the mind trip, and walk inside for better art. Even if you enjoy the off-beat feeling you get from the mural, you will be rewarded for entering.

Having the unfortunate circumstance of not being in Center City, there were only around a dozen people at the lofts when I visited. This was while there were 60 minute lines to get into the Grand Rapids Art Museum. To mention a contrast would be understating the situation.

Once inside the lofts, one can take their time, looking at all the pieces they have to offer, without feeling rushed by the crowds.

As much as that is a plus, the more you look at the art, the sadder you feel that there aren’t more people taking in such beauty.

The Gathering

The first worthwhile piece is “The Gathering” by Mary Sugiyama. The work has a plaster woman, knees pressed up against her chest, smiling contentedly. She sits displayed lovingly in front of a picture window, in a giant birds nest made of twine and shredded paper.

Tied to her wrists are red strings, leading to the ceiling. The ends of the strings are attached to birds, each made of different used paper. The effect is that of different ideas floating around a person.

When viewing Sugiyama’s piece, you get a full sense of that goal. The tranquility of the woman’s face, sitting on a bed recycled from past ideas, lets you know it is okay to be influenced by so many people and events.

Even though a couple dozen birds are tugging on her strings in different directions, the woman – representing us, the individual viewer – is content with what is happening in her life.

The work is deeply reflective. It challenges you to question the woman’s role in the world. If she is so blue, why does she look peaceful? What does it mean to be pulled in every direction?

“The Gathering” fits in with found media pieces commonly found at ArtPrize. The nest and the birds are all recycled. The string may or may not be. It’s string. Even if it wasn’t, it couldn’t have cost too much.

In fact, it is only the woman herself who is made carefully from scratch. This cannot be incidental. Sugiyama wants us to reflect on our connections to the world around us, having the human be made solid and visible grounds the piece in reality. Everything else is abstract and re-used. The woman is “real.” We are real, ideas and thoughts float around us like paper birds.

Reflections of Grand Rapids

Located near “The Gathering” is a trio of oil paintings called “Reflections of Grand Rapids.” The abstract paintings vaguely recall the Grand Rapids skyline and how it appears in the river. Each panel is four by four feet, giving the completed work a compelling presence.

The artist, Michele Gort, said in her artistic description that she wanted to capture the energy found in downtown Grand Rapids, in an abstract way. If downtown is full of a deceptively dark energy, then Gort succeeded in doing what she set out to do.

The pieces, while lovely and compelling, do not give off a sense of active vibrancy. The muted color choices and fading reflection lines almost make it appear to be a dying city.

However, that does not detract from the enjoyment of the work in the slightest. If you enjoy some abstract expressionism, “Reflections of Grand Rapids” will bring you great enjoyment. The careful brushwork is masterful, with each smudge being placed oh-so carefully on the canvas.

While Gort’s original mission statement may be lost in the abstraction, a beautiful series of colors and shapes still remains. Perhaps a more optimistic person will see the energy of Grand Rapids. For me, I enjoy it based on its aesthetic value; it is easy on the eyes and the abundance of colors is soothing.

When visiting in the daylight, the available lighting was more than enough to give you a look at these paintings without giving you a terrible glare, a problem that plagues so many venues looking to pack in as much art as they can without a care to presentation.

Earth Wind Fire

The best reason to go inside the Goodspeed Lofts rest on the building’s fifth floor. On the floor is a massive triptych of art, made entirely from sand.

Not impressive, you say? After all, Young Kim got his fame from doing something similar to sand and salt.

True. However, Young Kim worked with a plan.

“Earth Wind Fire” is made by Joe Mangrum, and it is completely improvised.

Filling up a 30’ x 70’ space, “Earth Wind Fire” is a trio of sand arts, each representing an element represented in the title.

Mangrum was answering questions when I visited. He said that he was not sure what he would be making at first. When a storm came through Grand Rapids shortly before ArtPrize started, he was inspired to make a circular cloud of blue, representing rain and wind.

From there, he thought of fire, then finally a green sphere, representing growth and peace.

Each section is beautifully made, with intricate patterns made from a dozen different colors of sand. Mangrum said he comes up with his designs as he goes, pouring each color of sand from his own hand – no additional tools are used to create the art.

Largeness may have become a cliché for the second ArtPrize competition, with many of the Top 10 being of epic scale. Look past the formula and visit the lofts for this work of art. The size will take your breath away, sure. The designs are artful all on their own. Once you know that the artist does it all by hand, without a proper design to follow, the sand becomes one of the most unique and fulfilling experiences you could ever imagine in this year’s competition.

If you are up for a short walk away from elephants and dragons, the Goodspeed Lofts offer a refreshing break from the chaos, and provide some of the most thought-provoking, most compelling art of the 2010 ArtPrize.

The Goodspeed Lofts are located at 206 and 208 Grandville Ave.

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