GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Among the entries in ArtPrize Nine are a number of pieces with a message.

“This is to try to create the illusion of the oil slick on water,” artist Ryan Spencer Reed showed 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday, pointing to the 60-by-90 photograph-base entry stretched across the Grand River near the JW Marriott Hotel in Grand Rapids called “Oil+Water.”

The work was inspired by protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“Oil+Water” by Ryan Spencer Reed and Richard App, an installation in the Grand River for ArtPrize Nine. (Sept. 19, 2017)

“We used a whole lot of petroleum-based products to try to make a statement about what it would be like to have our precious resource here contaminated,” Spencer Reed explained.

The entry is also an example of a return to something ArtPrize visitors didn’t see quite as much of in the last few years: large, standout pieces.

Remember SteamPig? The large metal pig sculpture drew eyes to the parking lot of The B.O.B. and won ninth place in the public vote during ArtPrize 2010.

“The big projects are important and it’s something we’ve been focusing on more and more,” ArtPrize Exhibitions Director Kevin Buist said.

You’ll have to wait for dark for one of the biggest public projects. STARFALL by Alexander Paschka involves a series of laser lights that will shoot from buildings toward the Grand River. The pulses of light will be created by human voices controlled from an area along the river near the JW Marriott.

Surveys taken by ArtPrize visitors suggest large-scale projects are a big attraction.

But big pieces of art, like ones installed in the river over the years, can present the most challenges for artists. Along with cost and red tape, there are the technical issues with putting something in a body of water.

Richard App, who put Nessie — a sculpture of the Loch Ness monster that took sixth place in the first ArtPrize and now resides at the John Ball Zoo — in the Grand in 2009, is collaborating with Spencer Reed on “Oil+Water.”

“The river will rise 20 inches between now and the end of ArtPrize. That’s something you have to take into consideration,” App said.

But the large-scale projects can also be the most rewarding.

ArtPrize has created a grant program, including $85,000 for Featured Public Projects. A dozen artists have created the artwork for those projects, like shipping containers covered in murals at Van Andel Arena and three other locations.

>>ArtPrize Nine entry hopes to break world record

Artists will tell you even though bigger projects may attract crowds, they still have to say something; they have to have an impact.

“We can always do big pieces, but they don’t necessarily grip your attention unless the work is captivating and if it has a message, relates to you. That’s what art does,” App said. “You’re certainly going to see the bigger pieces, but I think the good work stands out regardless of the size.”

ArtPrize, the world’s largest art competition, opens Wednesday and runs through Oct. 8.


Inside Complete ArtPrize coverage