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Mia Tavonatti won last year's $250,000 ArtPrize for her mosaic Crucifixion
Mia Tavonatti won last year's $250,000 ArtPrize for her mosaic Crucifixion


May 1, 2012

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Is ArtPrize on a quest for art-world credibility? The massive Grand Rapids, Mich.-based competition, backed by the notoriously conservative DeVos Foundation, is giving away $560,000 to artists this year, and has just opened its call for submissions. In the past, the enterprise has been criticized for conferring its hefty prizes on artworks that are, arguably, incommensurate in quality. That’s largely because, for the last four years, a vote by the local Michigan public has been the sole judge of the winners.

This year, ArtPrize has modified its populism with a rather elitist touch, by inviting a jury of art professionals to award some of the kudos. Seven judges -- Tom Eccles, Cathy Edwards, Lisa Frieman, Tyler Green, Jerry Saltz, Susan Szenasy and one more tba -- are doling out a total of $200,000, leaving the remaining $360,000 to be allocated via public vote. Saltz heads the panel that is selecting the $100,000 Grand Prize Jury Award, while each remaining judge awards $20,000 to an artist working in one of several media categories, according to Michigan Live. (Submissions are still open to any artist who can convince one of the 200 participating Grand Rapids venues to show his or her work.)

This might come as good news to ArtPrize naysayers like artist Richard Kooyman, who has written in the past that, “Artprize wants to replace knowledge with mass public opinion, an agenda often employed by the evangelical DeVos Foundation.”

But others, like conservative blogger Brian Sherwin, question the involvement of these presumed New York elites, particularly Saltz, of whom Sherwin has been a longstanding critic. On the blog FineArtViews, Sherwin wrote:

“Why is [Saltz] involving himself with an art organization that is heavily backed by a foundation known for embracing far-right Christian/political ideology? Why is he involving himself with a foundation -- even if indirectly involved -- that rails against some of the very things he claims to support? It does not make sense... unless, perhaps, Saltz is a closet conservative. . . and I'm not exactly joking when I say that.”

We ran Sherwin’s complaints by Saltz -- a beloved colleague here at Artnet Magazine, needless to say -- and in an email, he wrote, “On now learning how much these right-wing maniacs are giving away to artists, I would say: Give more to more artists. Also, my father is an illegal Estonian immigrant; this makes me what right-wing maniacs call ’an anchor baby.’ I am not self-deporting. I hope that Willard Romney loses.”

The works go on view in Grand Rapids, Sept. 19-Oct. 7, 2012.

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