My singular but jolly criticism of the night was that there was simply not enough time to take in everything that was on offer.
The annual event Art.Downtown took place this past Friday April 13. With over 300 artists and 30 locations it is one of the largest arts related events Grand Rapids has to offer and the entire experience is free. Pre-coverage for the evening was comprehensive this year and it seems that the publicity paid off. By seven p.m. downtown was overflowing. Visitors milled about the venues, occupying the city with a rare atmosphere of engagement and discussion. Packed trolleys whizzed by, picking up and dropping off visitors at the ten designated stops. Attendees scrutinized their maps, eager not to miss any of the action.
My singular but jolly criticism of the night was that there was simply not enough time to take in everything that was on offer. I agonized over who to see and who wasn’t going to make the cut, and this added an unforseen element of stress to the evening.
“I don’t get it,” a show curated by Hunter Bridwell and Amanda Carmer at 40 South Division was one of my first stops. Work included photographs by Annie De Young, collages by Trevor Dobias, photographs by Amanda Carmer, prints by Lucas Schurkamp and an installation by Will Olson. It was a joy to see a show so cohesively arranged. The space was uncluttered, making each work’s impact individual and enjoyable; a thoroughly humorous, compact and smart offering.
The DAAC was hosting work by Amanda Wieczorek in a solo show entitled “Beneath the Arc.” The DAAC can be a difficult space to work with, due to brick walls and a narrow layout creating a corridor effect, beckoning visitors through to the stage area at the back. Curator Mike Wolf managed to compliment the work’s delicate aesthetic with a simple but effective hanging. Wieczorek’s prints and accompanying prose proved massively intriguing. Each piece bolder and more deliberate than past work I have seen; a thoughtfully composed crescendo to an intense artistic process.
Calvin’s 106 gallery hosted an underwhelming but well attended show entitled “Monster sighting.” The work here was well curated but seemed to have been crafted with small children in mind, save for a rather clumsy photography piece which offered some unsubtle allusions to the horrors of self-harm.
Over at Kendall School of Art and Design I managed to see only one of the three shows on view. “Drawn” a show featuring Kim Cridler and Jonathan Wahl was a positive experience. The two artists use metals in entirely different manners. Wahl’s sumptuous charcoal drawings and his ghostly, minimal chandelier frame were on display alongside Cridler’s work which offered a more curvaceous and decorative use of similar primarily industrial materials.
“React,” a show by GVSU graphics students, proved too comprehensive for my wilted mind. With echoes of a career fair layout and bustle, the work was overshadowed by the stifling humidity of the space and stark strip lighting. What I did manage to see of the featured work was impressive and had I been a parent or good friend of a student and not a casual viewer I might have stuck it out.
Miscellany, a new shop and gallery hybrid on South Division, had its grand opening. It smelled and looked indescribably pleasant- a veritable oasis of calm amidst the temporary bustle of the Avenue. This space is incredibly, almost dauntingly precise, offering a limited but covetable range of apparel, books, zines and other items. Drawings were on display by Amanda Acker.
SiTE:LAB put on a sort of walking play written by GVSU professor Austin Bunn. It was inspired by the previous tenants of the Harris building; a secret society established in 1864 named the “The Order of the Knights of Pythias”. I have a long standing fascination with secret societies and was therefore instantly intrigued. I was not so intrigued however with the waiting lines that seemed to grow only longer. However, seeing my mother-in-law, a sensible woman, clutching a small square of waxed cardboard with an ambiguous triangle roughly stamped into the center proved bizarre enough a scene for me to sneak in the side door. Despite the subsequent feelings of guilt, it was definitely worth it.
The Harris building is vast and eerie. As I entered the space I felt like I had just stepped into the corpse of the Titanic, a giant wreck of a ship with little pockets of ghostly grandeur dotted about the space in the form of antlers and mounted deer heads, perhaps a few too many deer heads. The tinny and generic beats of an unrecognizable song drifted down the back stairwell.
Making my way up the stairs and into the grand hall I felt as though I had entered a sinister and ancient nightclub. I joined another waiting line which again moved at a snail’s pace. The stern specter of the fire marshal made his uniformed rounds of the building. The knowledge that I was effectively standing in a gigantic tinder box was never far away. I gave up on the second waiting line after fifteen minutes, preferring to return to the main hall to watch a scheduled part of the performance.
At nine p.m. The Knights of Pythias began to blow whistles in an ambiguous signal to one another. The music stopped and an unsettling quiet descended onto the informal audience. A single knight began an unintelligible chanting, looping his voice to an intense crescendo. When he had finished, the audience awkwardly applauded. From here on out things became humorous and all previous tension dissipated. After a short speech and an introduction to the leader of the Knights, it was revealed that the project was essentially a recruitment exercise- we the audience were invited to volunteer to become members of the Knights of Pythias, a formerly prestigious but now waning organization.
SiTE:LAB’s installation was the blockbuster of the evening, demanding significant dedication from the crowds. The central location of the show meant it served as a useful anchor for South Division, making sure everyone made the walk down an often avoided street. Overall I think SiTE:LAB rose just above the crowd control situation to create something that managed to be simultaneously funny and creepy.
What seemed the most notable about Art.Downtown. was the energetic engagement that prevailed over the entire city center. I missed out on a lot of shows, but I mostly found myself just wanting to sit outside and watch the city come alive. That proved to be by far the most memorable show of all.