A panel that included Arkansas arts professionals met Monday night at 21C Museum Hotel in Bentonville to listen to five pitches for an ArtPrize award to create public art in Grand Rapids, Mich. The jury — Dayton Castleman, museum manager at 21c Bentonville; Don Desmett, curator of the Western Michigan University ArtPrize venue; Shannon Dillard Mitchell, independent curator; Lauren Haynes, curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; and Marc Mitchell, curator and director of exhibitions, co-director of graduate studies, and assistant professor at the University of Arkansas — chose Rena Detrixhe’s “Red Dirt Rug,” a 1,000-square-foot rectangle of red dirt she’ll imprint with carved shoe soles, for the $5,000 prize. You can see read more about the ArtPrize winner here and see a video of the presentations in Bentonville here.
That description of the artwork doesn’t do it justice. Detrixhe describes the work as “part sculpture, part performance, part ritual and meditation.” It brings to mind the mandala sand images created by Buddhist monks. The monks carefully create colorful mandalas, only to destroy them as symbolic of the impermanence of material things. Detrixhe’s work, however, which will be created on the campus of Western Michigan University, represents the soil of the Dust Bowl and the human impact on the land, the impermanence of nature in the face of human alteration. Like Oklahoma, where Detrixhe is living and which inspired the red dirt piece, Michigan has serious environmental concerns, including the lead-poisoned water in Flint.
The competitors came to Arkansas because 21C hotels has been host to three of the six competitions across the country, in Louisville, Ky., and Durham, N.C. In Louisville, Kurt Ghode and Kremena Todorova’s winner is “Unlearn Fear and Hate,” a performance piece that launched last year in Lexington, Ky. The artists will stencil a mosaic “halo” image with the “Unlearn Fear + Fate” slogan in Grand Rapids’ Lyon Square. In Durham, Chris Vitiello won with his entry “The Language Is Asleep,” in which Vitiello will dress as a fox and cover the walls, ceiling and floor of a gallery with thousands of one-line poems written on dictionary pages. Future pitch nights will be at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit, the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.