– The $250,000 Art Prize

ArtPrize has created some debate among artists recently. The Grand Rapids, Michigan based art prize is offering the winning artist $250,000, 2nd place $100,000, 3rd place $50,000 and $7000 for the next 7 artists.

That much money on offer gets a lot of attention from artists and the media, but the thing that artists are discussing most is the judging process; there is none. OK, not none, but the public vote for the winner. This has made many artist afraid, especially conceptual artists, and I think they have good reason to be afraid as most people have no reason to be in a gallery. I know that I wouldn’t be a very good judge of hairy footed pheasants at a cock show as I don’t know anything about them, which is the same reason that people who wouldn’t know a poster from an oil painting wouldn’t be very good at judging art.

It seems to be an experimental art prize though, which hopes to involve the public and get them looking at art, so it’s all good. It will be interesting to see the winning work. The choices of art experts often have me scratching my head, so the public can’t do much worse in choosing a winner.

ArtPrize is open to artists worldwide and judging is open to anyone that attends an exhibition space throughout Grand Rapids, Michigan. See the ArtPrize website for more information on entering the art competition. They also have a blog discussing the prize.

Thanks to Susan and those that let me know of the art prize.

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. Well if it anything like the voting on Saatchi site forget it because some artists just go begging for votes on social networks etc, family and friends and they vote multiple times.

    If it is structured on a point system whereby judgment is based on several criteria (other than just like it or hate it), then maybe.

  2. Yeah, I never vote on the Saatchi site, even if it’s a friend asking for a vote.

    Giving the public the power opens it up to abuse, but with this much money on offer you would think that they have thought about it quite a bit. It’ll almost have to be treated like a political vote or artists will just keep voting for themselves.

  3. Entry fee is 50$, we all hope this is not a scam, don’t we?

  4. In the UK, The Art Fund recently tried to stir up a debate with the contentious question:
    “Can the public be trusted to choose public art projects?” (There’ll be a Channel 5 TV programme on the subject.) I recently covered a story about a bunch of miners who set up a major art project to stand on their old collery.

    I’d rather trust the public than art pundits with axes to grind. Art judges choose some very peculiar works, based I suspect on elitism and old-school-tie values rather than artistic talent.

    The public is exposed to huge amounts of art: adverts, posters, movies, TV programmes. (Years ago I worked in the same studio as the top-flight commercial artist who used to paint the fruit gums for the wrappers of Rowntrees Fruit Gums. Take a close look at a wrapper. That’s art!)

    The public may not be able to articulate why they like or dislike a piece of art, but they can certainly cast a vote.

  5. ArtPrize seems pretty explicit in that a voter can only vote if he or she is physically in Grand Rapids during the show. The voter must also register with ArtPrize physically (not online) and you cannot vote twice for the same piece (you may amend your vote but not cast your vote twice). They are pretty intent on maintaining the integrity of the vote so that it cannot be gamed.

  6. Anonymous says:

    But it is “gamed” if you think about it. You have to be in Grand Rapids to vote which means that artists from Grand Rapids stand a hell of a lot better chance of winning than artists outside of Grand Rapids. So you pay the $50 entry fee knowing that an artist from Grand Rapids who enters can easily have friends and family to show up to vote.

    You also have to find a venue that will show your work and pay to have it shipped and returned. So the be a part of the competition costs more than just $50. Normally if a competition involves an entry fee it is to pay the jurors which can easily cost $1,000 to $5,000 per juror. Since ArtPrize does not have jurors I fail to see why they have a $50 fee.

    Saatchi does public voting for free and the results can often be debated. With Saatchi Showdown it is possible to vote from the same computer over and over again because the site mechanics for voting is rather primitive. Myartspace has had free competitions involving public voting in the past as well, but at least they blocked obvious cheaters and made it clear that they would do it. Since that time they have moved on to professional jurors which I personally think is the best way to go. The downside is that since moving the jurors they have entry fees for most competitions.

    If ArtPrize did not involve a HUGE cash prize no one would be talking about it. So enter if you want a shot at that money. But I’d say it would be a better resume building competition if it at least involved one professional juror maybe from a local museum or something. That is what gallery owners look at who the jurors were when they are considering you for representation. They don’t care so much for public voting.

    The funny thing about these competitions is that if the artists who paid to enter them got together they could probably afford to rent a space in New York City or Miami for a couple of months to throw on their own show. It could be done if the show was broke up into one week shows for the month. But artists tend to not work together like that.

  7. Grand Rapids is in the Rust Belt, probably desperate to bring in outside money, with artists filling motels and restaurants. Who put up all the money? Was the Chamber of Commerce involved? Lots of empty building there, especially with Chrysler biting the dust, and GM closing plants.

    Not a bad idea for local competitions, but this is just too much money. Art does need to bring in more people to broaden its base. I would think about 20% of those over the between 35-70 could be possible clientele for art, if it appealed to the senses more, rather than cute games and academic theorems.

  8. I’m not sure the assumption that because the contest is held in Grand Rapids the prize will automatically be won by a local artist is necessarily true. I think we are underestimating “normal people,” I guess none of us will see until the voting starts and we’ll all see the caliber of the work that people are voting for (and where the artist is from)… but until this happens I don’t think this assumption is anything other than just an assumption.

    I just don’t understand the criticism that this is garnering from those in the art elite– They treat it as though it was a mortal threat to their existence (not here– but poke around and you’ll see what I mean)– ahem Mr. Kooyman. Frankly, if you don’t like it, fine. But why the movement to discredit the event is beyond me…

  9. imaclurg, questioning the merits of something doesn’t make a person elite.

  10. King Earl 1st says:

    It all sounds very democratic and so I am totally opposed to it. Democracy gave the world Hitler, Maggie Thatcher and George Bush. We need more rulers – Richard the Lion Heart, Elizabeth 1st, Henty 8th.- all oversaw great leaps in artistic expression, all would have had most modern day conceptualists boiled in oil (thats a performance art spectacle many would vote for given half a chance).

    As Harry Lime said in the film The Third Man “… in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

    We sadly appear to live in a time where we get all of the Borgias “…warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed..” but only the artistic equivelant of Cuckoo clocks. When I finally rule the whole world there are going to be some major changes to the way things get done… you just wait and see… must go…wife says I have to do the washing up… again!

  11. I dont know who Harry Lime is but I like the quote

    We have the wars and bloodshed today, but the problem is we are a controlled people. We’re taught to be good little white sheep and the black sheep with anything original to say is made into soup.

    Cuckoo clocks.. that’s funny. It is all we produce today.. cuckoo

  12. Emperor Earl says:

    Don’t know who Harry Lime is!!!??? Struth! Things must be really bad down under if you’ve even been deprived of seeing one of the greatest ever films ever. Ex convicts you may be but you don’t deserve to miss seeing such a great film however many loaves of bread you pinched.

    Harry Lime is a central character played by Orson Wells in the “must see before you die” film “The Third Man”. The sound track will stick in your head for the rest of your days and it’s a film with a plot … something Hollywood now misses out in most films in favour of stereo types and wizz bang flash effects. You’ll also have to put up with some acting, atmospheric lighting and a story…all elements once common in film but now rarely inflicted upon the viewing public. Soon they’ll just throw us bananas and we will cheer and clap with delight…

    If and when they let you out of your penance in the colony and you return to European civilization then I do hope you make the effort to see this film – try if possible to see it on a big screen… but make sure you pay for the ticket or you’ll find yourself on the next boat back to the billabong mate…

  13. While I must point out that democracy has created some decent works, the Greeks of the Golden Age of Pericles and Phidias in Athens, Florence was Republican and Michelangelo one of its hardest working supporters, though he also worked for the Medici’s, and most great French painting was during the Third Republic.

    However, the obvious benefit of totalitarian rule to polarize art, to make it feel important, to bring about it as a form of expression of philosophical, theological, and scientific Truths is beyond doubt. Revolution is a good thing, every once in a while, it flushes out the manure to put it nicely. And see what is left standing.

    So all hail dictators, tyrants and monarchs everywhwere! Our contribution to the evolution of Art is our greatest legacy!

    Don Frazelle, Duke of Gondar.
    (The street I live on, and ancient capital of Ethiopia, NOT Lord of the Rings)

    art collegia delenda est

  14. Actually, should put donFrazelle, Ras of Gondar. Amazing how may Rastafarians dont even know that Ras Tafari was Haile Salaice’s orginal name and title, meaning Duke Tafari, before he became the Lion of Judah and Emperor of Ethiopia. Many fake ones dont even know the quasi religion is about his being Jesus, coming to free the black man.

    More about hitting the bong for many, amazing how may white dudes love Reggae, just to get high too, and have blonde dreds. Really weird. Two of my wifes yoga instructors have them, many of the black women at her spirtual center jobs do too, its s hippie thing.

    just a little history moment, good nite y’all

  15. Anonymous says:

    The competition is legitimate. I live near Grand Rapids, and the person who is running the competition (Rick Devos) is the heir to Amway…Multi-Billion dollar corporation. Should be interesting. Grand Rapids is turning into a really neat city, and hopefully the whole event goes well.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Truth is the art world goes where the money goes. That is why there was a shift from Chicago to NYC starting in the 50s. Now there is kind of a shift to Miami. If you notice all of the people bashing this are critics or artists who are currently working or exhibiting in NYC or Miami. So I think there are afraid of a shift. What happens if the Devos funding shapes Grand Rapids into the next art world hotspot. This competition might just be the start.

  17. Anonymous says:

    heir to Amway

    Because Amway is totally legitimate and not a pyramid scheme. Way to instill confidence.

  18. I grew up in Grand Rapids — though haven’t lived there for 20+ years.
    I’m excited to be showing my art at a venue during the ArtPrize event, and am thrilled to witness this great “experiment” (as the concocters of the ArtPrize put it.)
    Who can say if the “big business” behind it all will ruin it. Sadly, artists are always at the mercy of patrons.
    Politics aside, it’s a huge event, will draw many artists from around the country, and I’m looking forward to it!

  19. While ArtPrize isn’t a new idea, its producers should be given their credit due. Funding for the arts is abysmal here in the USA so kudos for their effort. FotoFest in Houston, TX has the oldest (25 years and counting) and longest running city-wide art exhibition in the United States. CURATE THIS! (conceived as an experiment by 2 artists/gallery directors in New Orleans, LA) held in June, 2008 was the first global online voting event for a public art exhibition here in the United States drawing 400 ‘guest curators’ from 11 countries, followed shortly thereafter by The Brooklyn Art
    Museum’s ‘Click: A Crowd Curated Exhibition’. The CURATE THIS! creators were scheduled to create a city-wide public art exhibition (inspired by FotoFest) in the fall of 2008 during Prospect 1: New Orleans but their limited artist budgets had to allow for a longer brewing period. During that time,
    they founded The BECA Foundation – Bridge for Emerging Contemporary Art, a non-profit, proudly artist-centric arts organization and in June of 2010, they will finally add the long awaited city-wide public exhibition component to CURATE THIS! in Denver during the Denver Biennial of the Americas
    followed by a second incarnation in New Orleans in the fall of 2010 during Prospect 2: New Orleans. Don’t look for a $400K purse but it will be one hell of an event focused on the organization’s mission of creating public exhibition opportunities for emerging artists + designers. In addition to the public vote component, there will also be a professional curatorial component. The BECA Foundation is about creating opptys. for emerging artists + designers, the very ones who need exposure to and critique by those with expanded knowledge and expertise. The public and professional components are 2 equally important keys to the success of CURATE THIS! Leaning too far to one side or the other leaves out potentially important
    contributions to the event and benefits to the participants (both artists and the participating public).

  20. I am very excited about the art prize as an accessible venue for the average person. Many people are concerned about the $50 fee that the artists pay. Considering the effort put forth by the organizers to arrange venues, promote and publicize and the cash prizes itself $50 doesn’t seem to be much to pay. The potential exposure should be worth every penny.

  21. I live in Grand Rapids, MI and have been to the Art Prize four times so far. I enrolled to vote and it was FREE. The only time you will be charged a fee is if you want a book outlining all of the over 2000 exhibits ranging from live art, musical acts, two story sculptures to extremely deep impressionist art and true life oils.

    The voting process is very simple, thumbs up or down. The only time thumbs down count is in a tie situation for total votes. I personally base my voting on justified artistic merit without regards to the origin of the artist. As an initial offering of the venue, an unproportional number of artists are in fact from Michigan (although 13 countries are represented).

    I agree that everyone voting is not of art critic caliber but art for the masses is how i believe art should be. Accessible and thought provoking to anyone who views. All walks of life can be seen viewing the exhibits… what an amazing accomplishment.

    If you are curious


  22. I’m sorry but this post makes this blog look bad. Look at the results of the contest just in last night. A struggling painter from thousands of miles away won artprize. over 35,000 people logged almost 400,000 votes. the streets of Grand Rapids were bustling with “everyday” people viewing and talking about art. I honestly can’t believe you wrote what you wrote. listen to yourself. “…the thing that artists are discussing most is the judging process; there is none. OK, not none, but the public vote for the winner.” and “people who wouldn’t know a poster from an oil painting wouldn’t be very good at judging art.” I can’t believe you typed that out-loud. You might as well have said, “only us smart elite artists and those inside our circle can determine what good art is.” you actually basically equated a public vote to no vote. what do you think saying that makes you look like? if art is anything it should relate to “the people.” -not some educated ring of the intellectually informed. for example, a song may be of great musical genius but this contest seeks to ask if you and i can tap our foot to it or turn it up with the windows down as you cruise down the highway. yes, there is a valid aspect to intelligent critique but this opinion that the public opinion is essentially not an opinion is one that holds art back. many of the responding post were discouraging as well. you can have your little inwardly-focused art circle. the rest of the world and myself will enjoy things like artprize as we progress art forward on a grander scale.

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