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and Students Since 1994


The Incredible Art Department
Visits Art Prize

This past week The Incredible Art Department visited Grand Rapids, Michigan to see the art contest with the world's largest prize- $400,000. IAD reported on this event last May in the Art News section. We interviewed Rick DeVos, the organizer of the event. He says that 44 states and 24 countries participated in the event. Artists exhibited their work in restaurants, hotels, bridges, the street, parks, and even the police station. All in all, about 1,262 artists participated in the event.


There were 10 top prizes with $250,000 going to the grand prize winner. Venues got to select the artists who exhibited on their property through an online system. The area in which the event took place was in a 3 square mile radius. The public was able to vote for or against artists either online or by their cell phones.


Because of the sheer magnitude of the event and the fact I was not only able to interview artists but take over 800 pictures, you will find featured artists of the event throughout this year. It was fun to see current trends in art- especially in a recession. In addition, The Incredible Art Department also toured other events that will be covered in the future. Following is just a glimpse of what is to come:


Ann Arbor artist, Matthew Shlian, exhibits his paper sculpture titled Misfold. Click to see full size.

  • Grand Rapids Public Museum - I was fortunate to be visiting while their DaVinci Invention exhibit called Machines in Motion was being shown.

  • Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park - This is the world's best kept secret. Famous sculptors such as August Rodin, Henry Moore, Juan Munoz, Louise Bourgeois, and Richard Hunt have work dotting the countryside.

  • Kendall College of Art & Design - We visited classrooms and the student gallery. There were also several Art Prize exhibits present.

  • Tanglefoot Artist Studio - Several well-known artists from Grand Rapids have their studios in an old factory.

  • Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM)- Not only did we see the exhibits but were also allowed to go behind the scenes and see where their art is stored that isn't currently on display. We also visited with one of the curators.

  • Muskegon Museum of Art - The Herman Miller Furniture Exhibition was going on at the time. It was fascinating to see the history of furniture design.

  • Steelcase University - Steelcase is the world's largest furniture producer and we were able to see the new modern furniture designs being developed. They are also transforming hospitals across the country with new designs.

  • For example, Jason Hackenwerth creates huge sculptures from balloons. We will feature him and his work later this week. His interactive exhibit is called Ecstasy of the Scarlet Empress.

  • The Meyer May House - Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, this house was recently restored. We will cover aspects of the home that aren't typically covered in books or articles.


Love the sculpture. Looking forward to seeing more.
Jodie J
September 24, 2009 7:35 AM

This is so cool. I too, loved the sculpture and are looking forward to seeing more. It is very interesting. Love the website too!

December 17, 2009 2:56 PM


First Featured Art Prize Artist:

Jason Hackenwerth

Jason was first seen walking around the city inside his balloon sculptures. He led people to his exhibit in the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA). Although he had several balloon sculptures, his official entry was titled, Ecstasy of The Scarlet Empress.


Born in 1970 in St. Louis, MO, Jason received his BFA from Webster University in 1993 and his MFS from the Savannah College of Art & Design in Georgia in 2003. Jason has exhibited in such venues as the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis, the Museum of Art and Design in New York City, the Navta Schultz Gallery in Chicago, and Art Basel in Miami Beach, Florida.


Jason Hackenwerth underneith his sculpture


Says Jason of his medium, "Using balloons to make sculptures has magical results, and built in challenges. The works are instantly recognizable as an exuberant celebration of life. They offer joy, hope, and inspiration to anyone at any age, and require no deep understanding of contemporary art to enjoy. As closely related to exotic flowers as they are to deep-sea creatures, or microorganisms, the works communicate about connectivity. This becomes literal when a person gets inside a "wearable" sculpture called a Megamite to engage audiences or perform choreographed steps."


Jason in his sculpture

Jason inside one of his sculptures outside his venue.

"These interactions are meant to personalize the experience between the viewer and the art. Breaking down barriers between contemporary art and modern life. The challenge of balloons is their temporality. This work is experiential, not commodity based. It’s offered as a bright smile of hope if only ever briefly. Some works last just weeks or months. This fleeting fact increases its rarity and the urgency to see it while it exists."


Around his Art Prize exhibit, children were heard exclaiming that his balloon sculpture resembled a jelly fish from Sponge Bob Square Pants cartoons. It was suspended from the ceiling near the entrance to the building. Jason is seen here standing below his sculpture.


Says Jason of his sculpture, "The Honeysuckle Labyrinth was created for the New Museum Gala in 2006. I made a huge honeysuckle pod that was suspended in the center of the space on a mobile rig flanked by two smaller forms circling around it. Hovering and floating around these central forms were several large insect like forms that turned ever so slowly around on the air currents and seem to interact with the circling honeysuckle cluster. Above and outlying from them were more sinister creature-like sculptures that lurk ominously in the upper corners of the space providing macabre shadow’s on the darkened walls. Great lighting made this an incredible jaw dropping installation that filled the Cipriani space..."

Ecstasy of The Scarlet Empress

Jason next to his Art Prize exhibit, Ecstasy of The Scarlet Empress

Jason went on to say that his work resembles this sculpture in that it is suspended from the ceiling with smaller forms in the room. Either himself or others can climb inside his sculptures and walk or dance with them. This animates the sculpture to the whims of the person inside the sculpture.


Jason has a website that includes his exhibit on the right. It also features past projects and limited edition prints. Upcoming exhibits include The New Children's Museum in San Diego and The Skybox @ 2424 Studios in Philadelphia. Jason currently lives and works in New York City.


In an interview on tax day, 2009 in Vermont, Jason said of his balloons, "It’s not some contemporary art form where you have to have a degree to get it, because it’s just balloons!" After he completes his sculpture, it deflates and degradates in about three months.





i met him
September 27, 2009 7:28 PM

I saw Jason's work on a Science Friday video podcast:
How fun! - EFS

November 4, 2009 11:19 PM

I love his balloon sculptures.

November 6, 2009 8:16 AM

You should go to Duluth, Minnesota. I know that a lot of people would want to see your cool balloon stuff. You could raise money far charity, or animal shelters, or buy your mom a christmas present. I really like, "Ecstasy of The Scarlet Empress". It's really creative. Maybe you should try filling a bunch with helium and make one of those balloons with a basket tied to the bottom. You could put a little dog in it!

December 3, 2009 7:51 PM

I love it! His work is so much fun to look at and balloons are such an item of celebration. I am going to introduce him to my elementary art students.

December 6, 2009 9:53 AM


Do you have art news you want to share? Are you an art teacher and want to brag about your students here? E-mail me with your news and I will put it here next month.