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ArtPrize finalist vows to give money away

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

He didn’t end up winning anything.

But an ArtPrize finalist, New York artist Steve Lambert, caused a ruckus Friday when he announced on his website that were he to win a prize, he’d give it all away because of his opposition to the DeVos family’s conservative politics.

The $200,000 public-vote grand prize went to Anila Quayyum Agha of Indianapolis, for her installation “Intersections.”

And in a first for ArtPrize, the $200,000 juried grand prize was split between Agha — the only artist ever to get the nod from both the jury and the public for a top prize — and Sonya Clark of Richmond, Virginia, for her two-dimensional work “The Haircraft Project.”

Until Friday night’s announcement, Lambert of Beacon, New York, was in line to possibly win the $200,000 juried grand prize, but had vowed to give away any potential award to a gay and lesbian organization, the LGBT Fund of Grand Rapids, as a political statement.

On his website, Lambert criticized what he termed the DeVos family’s connection to the Blackwater security firm, their opposition to unions and support for organizations that oppose gay and lesbian rights.

In its early years, prize money for the competition came entirely from the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, whose son Rick, founded ArtPrize in 2009. Now the foundation contributes less than one-third.

“What bothers me the most is the DeVos family has, for generations, been on the wrong side of the fight for civil rights for LGBT people,” Lambert wrote. “And they back their opinions with millions in political money.”

Reached Friday, Lambert added that, “I decided taking the money would be over the line. It just didn’t feel right.”

While the DeVos family has a history of supporting anti-gay causes, including contributions to help pass Michigan’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, Betsy DeVos’ attitude on gay rights may have evolved over the years.

In January, The Detroit News broke the story that Betsy DeVos, a former head of the state Republican Party, called for GOP national committee member Dave Agema to resign after he made insulting comments about Muslims and homosexuals.

“Leaders have a responsibility to create an inclusive, welcoming party,” DeVos told The News’ Nolan Finley at the time. “We are driving people away who might otherwise support what we stand for.”

Calls to the DeVoses’ spokesman Greg McNeilly were not returned. At the DeVos Foundation, a spokeswoman said they couldn’t make an immediate comment.

ArtPrize winners were to be announced Friday evening in Grand Rapids.

The competition has two slates of finalists — one group of 20 picked by public vote, and another 20 chosen by a jury of experts. Lambert was picked by jurors as one of five finalists in the “time-based” art category for an installation titled “Capitalism Works for Me.”

In response to Lambert’s announcement, ArtPrize officials posted a note on their website saying “ArtPrize is a place where artists’ voices are amplified and free expression is paramount. We agree with 2013 ArtPrize Juror and Director of Creative Time Anne Pasternak when she said, ‘There’s no door that (artists) shouldn’t kick open.’ ”

Staff writer Louis Aguilar contributed to this report.

ArtPrize winners

Public vote

$200,000 Grand Prize: Anila Quayyum Agha, Indianapolis (Installation: “Intersections”)

$20,000: Two-Dimensional — Gretchyn Lauer, Grand Rapids

$20,000: Three-Dimensional — Marc Sijan, Milwaukee

$20,000: Time-Based — Robert Shangle, Sparta, Michigan

Juried vote

$200,000 divided between: Anila Quayyum Agha, and Sonya Clark, Richmond, Virginia (Two-Dimensional: “The Haircraft Project”)

$20,000: Three-Dimensional — Maximo Gonzalez, Mexico City

$20,000: Time-Based — Dance in the Annex, Grand Rapids

$20,000: Installation — Julie Schenkelberg, Brooklyn, New York

$20,000: Venue — SiTE:LAB @ The Morton