GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - The person claiming responsibility for spray-painting portraits of former President Gerald R. Ford around Grand Rapids this spring has also entered a piece into ArtPrize.
The entry, spray-painted on the side of The B.O.B., shows Ford and wife Betty accepting the 1976 Republican presidential nomination.
The artist claims he got the idea for it after seeing a statue of Ford at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.
The artist is anonymous, but 24 Hour News 8 found Thursday that depending on how far the piece goes in the competition, that anonymity may not be absolute.
Many artists are glued to their pieces throughout the first week, discussing their work and encouraging ArtPrize-goers to vote for them -- but not the 'Unknown Graffiti Artist,' as he's calling himself.
He's communicating to voters only if they call a number to get a recorded voice message.
"Hello, this is the unknown graffiti artist," the message says. "The title of my work is 'Vandalism.' This is in reference to the debate surrounding previous installations of Gerald Ford stencils."
And he's taking credit for earlier graffiti pictures of Ford doing things like skiing and running that popped up under overpasses in the Grand Rapids area.
The artist, formerly known as SKBFF on earlier pop-up portraits -- readily admits he has no training in creating or appreciating art. He used the previous graffiti as his "portfolio" on his artist webpage.
24 Hour News 8 contacted him via a phone number on his artist page and an e-mail address. The only response was a two-line email from an address calling itself 'Gerald Ford.' The email read, in part, "We are hoping to remain anonymous during the exhibition."
This is the first time ArtPrize is having to deal with anonymous entries. There are two this year.
"They can remain anonymous as they enter ArtPrize," explained Exhibitions Director Kevin Buist. "The only sticking point with that anonymity would come if they win an award."
That's because the winners have to fill out legal paperwork both with the competition and with the IRS, and they have to do that in their real name -- or turn down the money.
ArtPrize has been in touch with the artist to let that person know.
Buist said he doesn't personally know who the artist is, though he said someone in the ArtPrize organization might.
But if the organization knew, would it let that information out?
"We've discussed that internally. I don't think that we would," Buist said.
If the artist does win, ArtPrize says it likely wouldn't make a big announcement -- but there's a good chance becoming would become public record since ArtPrize is a non-profit.
That brings up a whole other issue: Since this artist did admit to vandalizing roadways and other parts of town, could he face any repercussions?
John Richard, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Transportation -- which had to foot the bill to clear away the graffiti that popped up earlier this year -- said MDOT is hoping the unknown artist makes it far in the competition.
"Oftentimes, when we catch the vandal in the act, we'll have supervision from the police as they wash and clean up the graffiti," explained MDOT spokesman John Richard. "In this case, since it's already been taken care of, we'll just collect some of the prize money. So we're rooting for him."
Richard said the money would be paying MDOT back both for the clean-up and the ad campaign leading up to the competition.
"He's definitely taking advantage of the publicity he got in the press when he defaced the infrastructure of I-196," said Richard.
Meanwhile, ArtPrize said it doesn't care if the artist has broken the law in the past as long as his entry complies with competition rules.
"The rules don't apply to an artist's entire life," said Buist. "The rules apply to what you are entering in ArtPrize, so anything else is just a non-issue for us."
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