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Grand Rapids ‘gawking’ over published ArtPrize slam

Posted at 10:21 PM, Oct 28, 2015

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- It’s a major event in Grand Rapids that brings thousands of visitors and hundreds of artists to the city each year, but at least one national journalist thinks it’s a "radically open far-right… joke."

A Wednesday article published by Peter Moskowitz on Gawker, titled “Welcome to ArtPrize, a 'Radically Open’ Far-Right Art Competition in Grand Rapids” is ruffling a few feathers.

Founded in 2009 by Rick DeVos, ArtPrize turns downtown Grand Rapids into a mecca of artwork and festivities. It claims to be the largest art competition in the world and despite that impressive statistic, Moskowitz instead said he heard it described to him by several during his visit as "banal." But he didn’t hesitate taking direct aim at the event’s organizers as well.

“I heard the phrase 'it’s radically open’ so many times, but it’s only radically open when they [the organizers] want to talk about it,” Moskowitz told FOX 17 Wednesday evening.

“It’s not radically open if it’s about LGBT issues and you’re talking to the DeVos family. It’s not radically open if you want to talk about Amway and the real estate downtown. It’s only radically open for a very specific set of topics and that hinders discussion.”

Moskowitz, a freelance writer from Brooklyn, said he was invited to the event by an ArtPrize public relations representative. All of his travel and accommodations were covered, including a flight on the DeVos’ own private plane along with other journalists. He said he received unlimited food and alcohol while being put up in the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

While he admits art is not his typical area of expertise, Moskowitz told FOX 17 he came to Grand Rapids with an open mind.

“I don’t think it was a letdown. I thought it was super fascinating,” he said.

In the Gawker piece, Moskowitz also suggested others told him the competition is ‘boring.’

“I guess the letdown part was the level of openness from the organizers of ArtPrize from the DeVos family and those sorts of people who didn’t want to talk about politics, and why they support ArtPrize, the vision for ArtPrize and their goals for ArtPrize,” he said.

Moskowitz said his disappointment set in when he was told by DeVos that there was no master strategy for the event except to make Grand Rapids more interesting, like a party.

“From what I understand they [the DeVos’] have slowly become more progressive but no one was willing to talk to me about that and I was specifically told not to talk about that,” Moskowitz said.

“I am gay myself, so I have a personal stake in people who harbor anti-gay beliefs. I was hoping to get an answer on that and I was simply shut down.”

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon responding to the article ArtPrize stated on its website Moskowitz’s affiliation to Gawker worried them because of  the site’s “specific style of written entertainment” and called his article both “agenda driven” and "painfully inaccurate.”

The statement went on to say Moskowitz skipped out on several scheduled events but Moskowitz told FOX 17 there was a reason why he didn’t attend some of the events.

“Unfortunately we were kind of brought by ArtPrize sponsored cars to three specific locations and only got to see art that wasn’t really from Grand Rapids or Michigan, but imported from Brooklyn or L.A. and other centers of creativity,” Moskowitz said.

Moskovitz added the competition lacked local flavor because he didn’t get to see anything different that would make the festival stand out. Moskowitz said he spoke with artists at ArtPrize who said the competition is not taken seriously, and even the winning art isn’t recognized as “high art.”

“To win legitimacy to this thing they have poured millions of dollars into, is their goal. It’s the same reason they import people like me and other journalists who got to fly on the DeVos family’s private jet, so we can theoretically lend legitimacy to the affair,” he said.

Moskowitz says he’s most curious to see what ArtPrize evolves into: a competition or an event.

“I think first, Art Prize needs to decide what it is. Is it a radically opened space? Then it can be.  That if it wants to be a show about high art then it should focus on that, and get some actual people that know what they are talking about to curate the art,” he said.

He admits he loved Grand Rapids and all it had to offer, but Moskowitz said he hopes the festival evolves into something with a clearer message and a mission. He might reconsider his view if that happens.

“I would definitely recommend Grand Rapids, just maybe not ArtPrize so much,” Moskowitz laughed.

The statement from ArtPrize closed, in part, with this: “misinformed articles are just an occupational hazard of running the world’s largest art competition and life will go on.”