GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - An ArtPrize entry at The B.O.B. -- Saddam Hussein hanging inside a cage -- has generated controversy and acrimony between the artist and the venue.
The piece by artist Gurmej Singh -- better known by his alias Artist SinGh -- is called "Captivity."
It is, according to his website, "installation art that will change daily." The purpose of the piece, he wrote, "is intended to show different cultures and how they are captive to certain ideas."
An email he said he received from The B.O.B. told him, "to remove your artwork immediately and have one day in which to get it out of the parking lot. Your display is very disturbing and in no way acceptable to be displayed at The B.O.B. If it is not removed within one day we will have it removed!"
However, The B.O.B. owner Greg Gilmore told 24 Hour News 8 he personally threw SinGh's entry into the Dumpster.
"I had some staff come to me and ask me if I knew what was in the cage, and I said, 'No, I had no idea.' And they started describing it to me, and I immediately came down here and removed it," Gilmore told 24 Hour News 8.
He said he was angry at what he saw as a betrayal of trust between the downtown Grand Rapids venue and SinGh.
"I was infuriated," Gilmore said. "He took advantage of us. And we trusted him after the last several years and the art that he brought, that it would be tasteful, and it was anything but.'
Gilmore said he and The B.O.B. did not get what they expected.
"We thought it was going to be a bird house that he was painting in on a daily basis," said Gilmore. "And it was a political statement. Highly inappropriate daily political statement."
Some might say it's the venue's responsibility to work with the artists and know what they're going to get.
"It's ArtPrize. You never know what you're going to get until it shows up. The artists change things. They manipulate things, and they're working on it up until today. And even some of these are works in progress, so they won't be finished for another week," said Gilmore. "Quite often, ArtPrize is a surprise in many respects. Mostly good, almost always good, but not in this case."
But SinGh said he didn't deviate that much from his usual type of work.
"We did the same thing what we always did. It's not that this was something new," SinGh said. "People know me as an artist and if I want to be in there, I'm welcome."
And, he said, he didn't invent an image that didn't already exist.
"It's a concept I wanted to present, and it's not something that I am inventing. It's there, it's out there," said SinGh. "Why should an artist [have] to first get permission what he should paint and what he should sculpt?"
SinGh said The B.O.B. organizers never asked him for specifics about his piece.
"I told them it was going to be installation art, and no questions were raised," SinGh said. "So I really didn't have to tell anything."
He told 24 Hour News 8 he was told he was welcome and everything was okay.
SinGh said he was upset his work had been thrown out.
"I'm pretty angry about that, but there's not much I can do at this point. I see my own piece in the Dumpster like that. That's really sad."
And, he said, he was disappointed in the way the situation was handled.
"They should have dealt with me directly, and not taken the artwork and thrown it in the garbage, and in the Dumpster," said SinGh. "That idea is totally wrong. I'm not for that. If there is an issue that we don't agree together on something, they should call me, and talk to me and figure out what to do from there on."
He also didn't appreciate Gilmore's tone when he saw him speak to 24 Hour News 8 at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
"I heard on TV. Mr. Greg Gilmore, he was very proud," said SinGh. "It's not right. It's simply not right."
For SinGh, it's a matter of freedom of expression.
"We artists have no freedom to do what we want to do, to sculpt what we want to sculpt, or paint what we want to paint," said SinGh. "And he's got the freedom to take the artwork and throw it in the Dumpster and call it good."
Is it censorship? Gilmore says no.
"We're just making a statement that we're not a forum for political statements," he said. "ArtPrize is not a forum for political statements such as this at The B.O.B. If they want to find some other forum elsewhere in the city, that's up to them. But not here."
And, Gilmore says, he doesn't know exactly what will happen regarding SinGh's entry now.
"I haven't even spoken to him. So, if he wants to come in and paint, we would probably let him paint," said Gilmore.
Initially, SinGh sent an email to The B.O.B. asking for advice on "what we should do to resolve this issue. I really don't want to lose the venue and turn this issue into a media circus. All the media is trying contact me since this morning. I want to work with you and resolve this matter ASAP."
But after Gilmore told 24 Hour News 8 he personally threw the art in the trash, SinGh released this statement:
"I am not very happy with what has been done to my art work. Channel 8 called
me and said that their reporter saw the sculpture in the dumpster. I worked on the show for a year and have spent a large sum of money on it. One must consider that Art is Art and it is supposed to or can be provoking. It can be visually upsetting for some. This is the country about freedom and expression. Throwing the art away in the dumpster is not appropriate for the BOB and the artprize.
"Everybody is making money in this venture. BOB is making, art prize is making money, city is making money, and the only people who are not making money are the artists. We artist are taking a gamble by spending money and time like whole year working on the projects just to create art, and entertain people, and we don't even get the freedom to make art the way we want. They are deciding what kind of art we should make that is appropriate for the artprize.
"Therefore, I have decided that I will not take part in this contest any more ever again. I should be fighting this in the court of people not with the venue or the artprize. The BOB and the Artprize is acting like the dictators of the Middle East. Do I have to remind them this is America? How long can we continue hiding our face from opposing people who do not support freedom that we stand for? I will be taking legal action against BOB and art prize organizers for vandalizing and destroying my art work and killing an artist's expression.
"I urge all the artists in Grand Rapids and in the world to support my quest of freedom of expression in art.
"If they don't let me do this art show in the art prize I will be doing it in my studio in Kalamazoo and on my website.
In the first year of ArtPrize, SinGh's planned jump from a 70-foot platform into boxes was put on hold over safety concerns. He stood on the platform for the entire length of ArtPrize and the jump was "to symbolize he was part of the project, he was part of the dream, and now that he has accomplished his dream successfully, he will detach himself with a winner's spirit to move on to see another dream."
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