GRAND RAPIDS — On this Saturday afternoon, there’s a 15-minute wait just to get into the Grand Rapids Art Museum. But the hundreds of people in line aren’t heading to see an Andy Warhol retrospective or new glassworks from Dale Chihuly. In fact, most of them don’t know anything about the artists whose creations are being shown inside.

It’s the third day of ArtPrize, the annual competition that brings together painters, photographers, sculptors and conceptual artists from around the world to vie for prizes that run as high as $250,000. ArtPrize — which is being held for the third time this year — also means big money for the restaurants, coffeeshops, bars and businesses of downtown Grand Rapids: Throughout the day, it was impossible not to notice packed eateries, busy stores and crowded parking ramps.

Our region is well represented in this year’s ArtPrize, with almost 20 artists from Lansing, East Lansing, Holt, Williamston and Charlotte among the approximately 1,100 entrants.

Here are a few of the local participants and where they are showing their work; we’ll be profiling more of them on the website ( before ArtPrize wraps up on Oct. 9. 

Henry Brimmer

If you need a house, Henry Brimmer can help: He’s got about 15,000 of them. The only problem: They don’t offer much in the way of square footage.

“You know those little Monopoly houses? They’re kind of like that, only a little larger,” Brimmer said of the pieces he and his friends made for “Touch Wood,” his ArtPrize entry at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Visitors can use the miniature homes to create their own structures or patterns.

It’s an unusual project for him. “I’m a graphic designer and photographer,” said Brimmer, who is an assistant professor of advertising, public relations and retailing at Michigan State
University. “What I wanted to do this time around was to get away from flat, one-dimensional art and create a space, create something that had three-dimensional elements. That was the onset of the project, sort of the base.”

The centerpiece of the work is a larger house created from wood salvaged by the Michigan Barn Preservation Network. “I also wanted to have a low-tech, interactive component. My idea was to create these pedestals on which people could play with these little houses and
build little structures. It was very much in the spirit of improvisation.”

The early response to his work was encouraging: “The first post I saw about it on the Web was ‘it’s so refreshing to go into a museum and be able to interact with the art and not be told, don’t touch.’”

But last Thursday, only two days into ArtPrize, Brimmer was already heading back to the museum to make fixes after some patrons had touched “Wood” a little too roughly.

In an e-mail after his interview, Brimmer wrote, “I might give up on the ‘interactive’ part. There were two or three occasions already with people yanking stuff off the wall. (It) made me think I’d ask for the ‘do not touch’ sign — blame the few bad apples. …

“The great thing about ArtPrize is that it is so democratic. That is also its downside.”

He’s still enthusiastic about the competition, calling many of the entries “stunning, phenomenal.”

“I almost feel like, ‘What the hell am I doing in a museum?’ But why not, you know?”

"Touch Wood," Grand Rapids Art Museum, 101 Monroe Center. Noon-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; noon-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon-6 p.m. Sunday.

Gregory Oberle

When you looked into the View-Master toy, you saw two images melding into one three-dimensional picture. Lansing artist Gregory Oberle and his “partner in crime” and fellow Kendall School of Design graduate, Dustin Farnsworth, turned that concept around for their ArtPrize entry, “Grow-Faster,” a four-and-half-foot mock View-Master that contrasts the activities of children at play with the experiences of adults immersed in warfare.

“We took one idea and make it into two images, so it’s kind of a reversal of the original purpose,” Oberle explained.

Oberle, who majored in illustration at Kendall, did the drawings in ballpoint pen.

“I wanted to choose a tool that bridged that gap between childhood and adulthood. Ballpoint is associated with being a professional, or being at a desk, but it’s also what kids use for
taking notes or whatever. It’s a simplistic tool that can kind of exist in both worlds. I suppose we could have done them in crayon, but then the View-Master would have had to be larger to achieve same level of detail.”

Farnsworth, a sculpture and functional art major, created the oversized View-Master, which is patterned after the red, white and blue 1976 Bicentennial model.

The 25-year-old Oberle has participated in every ArtPrize to date.

“I’m surviving every year, coming out alive — certainly not victorious, but somehow better for it,” he said. “I think what the ArtPrize (organizers) are trying to do is kick-start a conversation
with people about something people find difficult to discuss. That has its upsides and downsides. I think ArtPrize is going through serious growing pains, but I chose to continue participating because I think it has great potential. I also think that over time attention will shift
from the money to what art is and how it can make changes — for cities and for the individual — which is what I try to do with my art all along.”

Oberle said he sees mixed feelings about the competition among his fellow artists.

“There are a lot of different ways of embracing ArtPrize and a lot of ways of reviling it, too,” he said. “There are some who think it’s one of the worst things happening in the art world. I’m
somewhere in the middle; I just kind of plan on participating and experiencing it for myself and taking from it what I may.”

When he was hurrying to get “Grow-Faster” installed last week, Oberle was feeling under the gun — until he saw a mother and child taking turns looking through the piece’s lens to admire his artwork.

“Those little moments kind of shrink the competition down. You stop thinking about $250,000 and start thinking about why you make art at all. That little thing kind of answered the question I was asking myself at midnight the night before when I was trying to get
ready: ‘That’s why.’”

“Grow-Faster,” Federal Square Building: The Spot, 29 Pearl St. SW. Noon-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; noon-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon-6 p.m. Sunday.

Tiffany Klein

When Lansing artist Tiffany Klein saw “Gone With the Wind” as a 10-year-old, she found it terribly romantic.

“I thought it was such a beautiful love story and I wanted to marry someone like Rhett Butler,” she said.

That was also what she was thinking when she began work on her ArtPrize entry, a carved concrete mural depicting images from the film. After a second viewing of “Wind,” however, Klein was fighting her own Civil War.

“I decided to rewatch the movie again, with different eyes this time — and it was nothing like I remembered it,” she said, with a sigh. “I had half my carving done, and the dang movie was
different! The scene I had carved with Scarlett and Rhett was what I remembered as a passionate love scene, and when I rewatched it, it was more like an ‘I’m going to scream’ scene.”

But rather than surrender, Klein followed the example of the ever-resourceful Scarlett O’Hara and made the necessary adjustments. So her artwork reflects the theme of Margaret Mitchell’s story — that everything is temporary and that survival depends on adapting to unexpected reversals of fortune.

“The movie is really about conflict, not about love or how passion ends up on a positive note,” Klein realized. “It kind of pissed me off, but it’s OK.”

This is the first time Klein has entered an art competition, even though she says she’s “been an artist my whole life.” Her initial motivation to look into ArtPrize came, surprisingly, from
Disney. She had dreams of carving the iconic Disney princesses — Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel, etc. — in concrete; unfortunately, the Mouse House has strict regulations about the use of its copyrighted characters in other people’s art. So Klein decided to see if Disney would hire her.

“You have to win something in order to be considered to work for them,” she said.

Hello, ArtPrize.

“I thought, ‘I’ll enter this and see if I can convince Disney to give me the chance to do something for them,’” she said.

Out of six possible locations for exhibition, Klein chose Tavern on the Square, and “because their decor was Civil War-themed, as soon as I saw the venue I knew I wanted to do ‘Gone With the Wind.’”

If Disney reps drop by, Klein will be thrilled. But even if they don’t, she’s more than satisfied.

“It really stopped being a competition once I saw the venue,” she said. “Then it was more a statement about art. So win or lose, this has been a great opportunity.”

Not to mention a real challenge.

“There are oodles of hours in there,” she said of her entry. “I stopped counting after 400. There’s a lot of passion in this piece, as there is in everything I do.”

“Depiction of ‘Gone With the Wind,’” Tavern on the Square, 100 Ionia Ave. SW. Noon-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; noon-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon-6 p.m. Sunday.

Various venues throughout downtown Grand Rapids

Through Oct. 9


For listings of artists and exhibition spaces, visit