It's as predictable as the swallows' return to Capistrano.

Every September, flocks of Detroit artists head west on I-96 to hang their work at Grand Rapids' ArtPrize, the "radically open" art competition that opened Wednesday and runs through Oct. 12.

Two of those who made the trek are Highland Park painter Saffell Gardner and Detroit sculptor and multimedia artist Graem Whyte.

This is Gardner's first entry, though he's lucked out — his painting "Full Sail" is installed in DeVos Place Convention Center, one of the festival's high-visibility locales.

The work itself is one of Gardner's trademark abstracts, a colorful burst of parallel and intersecting lines.

"I've been sailing a few times, and I love the water," he said. "I know when there's a chemistry — when the sail is up and the wind is filling it. That's kind of the way I like to talk about creativity and working in the studio."

Gardner, who's in four shows right now (locally, he's at Hamtramck's 9338 Campau gallery and Detroit Fiber Works, both through this weekend), applauds what ArtPrize has done to make art more accessible.

"It brings out a lot more people to look at art," he said, "people who probably wouldn't before. It's turned art into a destination."

And were he to luck out and win one of the two $200,000 grand prizes? Gardner laughs. "Well, I'd love to live on a sailboat. Of course," he added, "I'd have to hire someone to sail it for me."

Compared to "Full Sail," Graem Whyte's entry is a far more complex, high-concept affair.

"The Garden of Future Dreams" is an installation with garden implements, a satellite dish painted as a mandala, and a beam compass that distributes salt in large concentric circles on the floor.

"Garden" is on an upper floor of Grand Rapids' Morton Hotel, currently undergoing renovations and, according to Whyte, pleasingly raw.

"I've incorporated the entire room I'm in, about 50 feet by 70 feet," he said, adding that the piece "represents the physical manifestation of the cosmic plane within the earthly realm."

There's a performance component, too. At 8 p.m. Friday, the Tzarinas of the Plane — performance artists Bridgit Michael and Faina Lerman, Whyte's wife — will load salt into a hopper that the beam compass will distribute on the floor. There's a repeat performance Saturday afternoon, though the time hasn't been set.

And why salt rather than, say, sand? Because, Whyte says, salt is used in Japanese ritual purification and to create sacred space.

A hole in the floor in the middle of "Garden" will let visitors peer down to "The Secrets of Nature," Detroiter Scott Hocking's entry this year, and the two are loosely connected. Whyte explains that "Secrets" deals with the terrestrial, while "Garden" touches on the ethereal realm.

And what if he won the mother lode? What would he use the $200,000 for?

"Taxes," Whyte said.


Through Oct. 12

All over central Grand Rapids

8 p.m. Oct. 10: Announcement of winners

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