Redefining creativity

GVL / Robert Mathews
David Doddes ArtPrize entry Fleurs et riviere at Calder Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids.

GVL / Robert Mathews David Dodde’s ArtPrize entry “Fleurs et riviere” at Calder Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids.

Lizzy Balboa

Those who haven’t had a chance to visit ArtPrize yet have been given a final opportunity to view the transformed “La Grande Vitesse” before the city disassembles the attached entry. The decommission of a local artist’s piece has been postponed until Tuesday to allow the artist’s son a chance to view it on a scheduled field trip.

David Dodde’s “Fleurs et riviere,” which altered the iconic Alexander Calder sculpture, was scheduled for early removal after community members complained that it was “disrespectful to the spirit of Calder.”

“(We) immediately heard grumblings from academia that what I was doing was akin to setting the Sistine Chapel on fire, and thus began a great debate behind the scenes,” said Dodde, who coordinates internships with Grand Valley State University students.

The artist had applied 1,500 magnets to “La Grande Vitesse” in the shape of apple blossoms—the state flower. He described the entry as two pieces of art “converging in concert, with my piece floating on top benignly—doing no harm.”

“Those magnets are doing no more damage to that piece of artwork than a thread moving on top of it,” he said, adding that the magnets leave no residue and will not affect the sculpture’s color. “A lot of research and development, a lot of planning went into the execution of this piece in the last year. In no way was it approached in a haphazard manner or a hasty manner. It is literally a non issue.”

However, many in the art and Grand Rapids community disagree.

GVSU’s art curator, Henry Matthews, was one member of the community who spoke out in favor of the deinstallation.

Matthews said he has not spoken to Dodde about his perspective, nor was he aware that the artist was even affiliated with GVSU.

“That’s interesting, (but) that doesn’t change my opinion,” he said. “It was probably an inappropriate thing to do.”

As for Dodde’s perspective on the issue, the curator said it “doesn’t matter.”

“It wasn’t his work of art,” he said. “It belongs to another artist. It’s a very important piece to the history of art in general, in the big history of things. The Calder Foundation clearly found it inappropriate.”

Dodde, who considers himself a “Calder super-fan,” said the art was in no way meant to disrespect the original artist. “(I grew) up under the specter of Calder, and it’s near and dear to my heart,” he said.

This self-perception didn’t prevent criticism, though.

“The Calder Foundation does not approve, but the initial response was to let it go because they knew it was temporary,” Dodde said. “One can say two wrongs don’t make a right, and that’s true, but it’s hard to put that genie back in the bottle. We were given permission, and all the city officials have gone on record saying they loved the work—they appreciated the work.”

Dodde added that the enhanced Grande Vitesse was the masthead of city’s Facebook page before the controversy began.

“The mayor and the city of Grand Rapids are in support of me,” he said. “The city is, in good will, accommodating the desires of a few people-basically the art elites of Grand Rapids.”

The mayor’s office was unable for comment, but previous MLive articles reported Mayor George Heartwell as having been supportive of the decision to remove the applications.

“It put the artist and the city into this awkward position,” Matthews said. “Frankly, now Grand Rapids looks a little silly in the world of art.”

However, Dodde questions why an issue was never raised when the structure was used for previous public events. “It’s been used as a paperweight (for balloons) a hundred times,” he said.

Last year’s ArtPrize featured an exhibit that also used “La Grande Vitesse.” A Missouri artist hung ropes from the sculpture.

“It’s confusing to me that previous entries have been able to stay and run the course and have been so well received by academia,” Dodde said, noting that the exhibition using the sculpture in 2012 was voted the best use of urban space.

Matthews acknowledged this fact, but insisted that the offense is still inappropriate.

“Last year, an artist did a knitting project,” Matthews said. “That, too, was highly inappropriate for exactly the same reasons. I think this year it just caught more attention because it was physically
attached to the sculpture itself, and the Calder Foundation caught wind of it by others. I don’t know if they ever got the word last year.”

But Dodde has another theory as to why his piece of art brought the heat.

“The only conclusion that I can come to is that it is an ‘us and them’ (issue),” Dodde said. “As a street artist, I am being pointed at as not a part of the establishment.”

Dodde said that, as a printmaker, his style is bold and blocky. “I’m a pop artist,” he said. “I seek to get a very significant reaction of the work, and I do. That’s my voice.”

But it’s not even his individual style that defines the piece.

“It’s the fact that I took somebody’s work and integrated my own into it,” Dodde said. “It’s my job to change perception. Otherwise we all become complacent and boring.”

Dodde said he is not disqualified from ArtPrize and can still receive votes. “ArtPrize is in full support of me,” he said.

Dodde was approached last year by Calder Plaza’s ArtPrize curator to use “La Grande Vitesse” as a substrate for his artwork. Dodde said the curator had previously received permission to manipulate
the structure.

“I was invited to do this piece—nobody knew what I would do with it,” he said.

While Dodde was initially hesitant to work on La Grand Vitesse, he said his “hometown pride” and reverence for Calder brought him to think, “Maybe this is something that can be changed.”

“’Fleurs et riviere’ is my homage to Calder and, in larger perspective, an homage to the city of Grand Rapids, as well,” he said.

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