Through adversity, massive BLM sculpture stands tall at ArtPrize

ArtPrize

BLM, an ArtPrize 2021 sculpture created by Paul Hudacek, stands outside Linear Restaurant in Grand Rapids. (Sept. 16, 2021)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An ArtPrize piece standing on Grand Rapids’ northwest side was created in 2020, when a lot was uncertain in the world because of COVID-19 and pushes for greater equality.

Paul Hudacek’s ArtPrize entry was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Hudacek and his partner, who is also an artist, both contracted COVID-19 last year. They are considered long-haulers; they have been experiencing COVID-19 symptoms for more than a year now. While they were sick, they were forced to miss out on protests against police brutality.

“We were down with COVID horribly and I was trying to take care of her, and I was so disgusted with what was going on with the country, with George Floyd — and that happened, and I was so disgusted and dismayed,” Hudacek said.

Hudacek decided to make a statement through his ArtPrize piece, a sculpture called BLM. Unfortunately, the effects of COVID-19 cut into work time he normally would have had.

“It bothered me so much and I wasn’t able to go out and physically protest because I couldn’t leave my partner for more than 20, 30 minutes at a time and I had to do something,” Hudacek said. “I’d steal 20 minutes here, a half hour there and I would make sure she was good, and I’d run down (to work on it). It was keeping me alive but also helping me create something to get the message out.”

BLM, an ArtPrize 2021 sculpture created by Paul Hudacek, stands outside Linear Restaurant in Grand Rapids. (Sept. 16, 2021)

Hudacek, of the Pontiac area, who says he has been an artist all his life, creates a wide spectrum of works including abstract sculptures, figurative sculptures and oil paintings. He also designs and makes furniture. He and his partner Alyce Voit have a studio, where a public sculpture garden is featured.

“This is what we do,” Hudacek said. “Some of the pieces we do are 10,000-pound sculptures. We’re hoping not just to visually bring up this part of Woodward, just south of Pontiac, but help inspire people, the local kids when people drive by.”

MESSAGE BEHIND SCULPTURE POWERFUL, ‘NOT OBVIOUS’

The art he and his partner create typically doesn’t involve political messages, but it has more recently.  

“I have a lot of issues with what’s going on in this country today. I’m really despondent and dismayed about how our pro-Americans are treating each other and not wanting to help each other. They’re kind of fostering more hate than love,” Hudacek said.

He felt the message of his ArtPrize sculpture was “extremely important” because of how Black and brown people were often victims of police brutality and Asian people were treated differently after COVID-19 was first identified in China.

“This is not a temporal thing; this is something that has to be addressed to this country,” Hudacek said. “It’s almost to the point where people are just letting it go and aren’t even seeming to be considering this stuff. It’s disheartening.”

He described his ArtPrize sculpture as “literal but not horribly obvious.”

“You can almost look at it and not understand what it is, so it’s almost a way to get people excited about it that might not be excited about the messaging,” Hudacek said.

BLM, an ArtPrize 2021 sculpture created by Paul Hudacek, stands outside Linear Restaurant in Grand Rapids. (Sept. 16, 2021)

He said some may not notice the sculpture’s message right away.

“I’m kind of making them think twice about what’s happening, too,” he said. “They’ll like the art, but they’ll also like the message that it portrays.”

BLM weights over 4,000 pounds and stands taller than 10 feet. The sculpture can be disassembled to make it easier to transport.

“It’s big and it’s heavy and it’s powerful and it’s just there,” Hudacek said.

The sculpture was created using recycled pieces, including the bolts. The machine used to put it together was also repurposed.

Hudacek said he didn’t always use recycled pieces in his artwork.

“I did bronze sculptures, figurative bronzes, and I can’t justify the environmental cost of melting down new material and all that energy put into it,” he said. “So we’re making do with whatever’s available to us locally, and we’re turning that into our art.”  

All the pieces used in the couple’s more recent work have already paid the initial environmental price.  

“Then we transform those into either beautiful pieces of art, or messaging is what I’m kind of focusing on,” he said.

PERMIT ISSUES ALMOST BLOCK BLM FROM ARTPRIZE

There were seven venues that wanted the sculpture. Hudacek chose to display his piece at Linear Restaurant at 1001 Monroe Avenue NW.

BLM, an ArtPrize 2021 sculpture created by Paul Hudacek, stands outside Linear Restaurant in Grand Rapids. (Sept. 16, 2021)

In the weeks leading up to ArtPrize, Hudacek faced challenges. Just eight weeks before the event started, Hudacek was told he needed to apply for a temporary use permit with the city to display the piece.

“So I fill it all out, submitted it and then they said, ‘Oh, that wasn’t enough information,’” Hudacek said.

He said the city wanted a site plan and he wasn’t familiar with the property lines. He also said he hadn’t received all the information needed from the restaurant owner.

A week after submitting the information, including an insurance document, the city told Hudacek that it was reviewing the application. A week after that, he got a call saying he did not fill out the correct form and that he needed to apply for a special event permit. He was then directed to talk to a different department. It became a back-and-forth situation between the departments and Hudacek was unsure the paperwork would be cleared in time for ArtPrize.

With one week left, questions remained.

“I’m dead in the water. Nothing is organized,” Hudacek said, adding that he did not know what to do at that point.

He was concerned there wouldn’t be enough time to disassemble, organize a large truck and transport in the time frame that was left.

“So there’s a number of factors in there,” Hudacek said.

Through all the stress, Hudacek remained positive. It paid off. BLM made it to its ArtPrize location outside Linear Restaurant with one day to spare.

An undated courtesy photo of Paul Hudacek standing next to his ArtPrize 2021 sculpture BLM outside Linear Restaurant in Grand Rapids.

“Be positive: That’s my blood type and my attitude,” Hudacek joked.

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