Judith Braun, an artist from New York City, released a yelp of excitement when her charcoal fingerprint wall won the public’s vote to place her in the top 20. Her tiny frame jumped up and down, threatening to throw her thick-rimmed glasses right off of her narrow face, and I couldn’t help but release a little cheer with her.
The documentary film, “More Art Upstairs” sucks viewers into the art world of Grand Rapids, Mich. where a huge art show called ArtPrize takes place every year, displaying over 1,200 pieces of art by more than 1,400 different artists. Winners can win $200,000 if they are given the first place spot, but there is a catch.
Though there is a prize given out by professional art critics, the other big winner is determined by the public vote. With close to 500,000 people showing up to ArtPrize, the artists are competing to appeal to the public just as much as they are trying to create outstanding art. It adds a whole other dimension by watching the artists interact with the public viewing their pieces.
The documentary follows the artists Nick Klein with his church remodel, Marissa Voytenko who is a local encaustic painter, Leah Smith and Michael Townsend who made their piece entirely with paint and a brick wall and of course, Braun.
With how personal the film is, I couldn’t help but get wrapped up in each of the artists’ stories and their backgrounds of how they got to ArtPrize, and it was hard to watch when they didn’t receive enough votes. I found myself vocally cheering for the winners or saying “shoot.” when the artists lost and had to make their way back home.
The Exhibitions Director for ArtPrize, Kevin Buist, leads the viewer through the exhibits explaining the impact each piece is having on, not only the critics but also with the public. He is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to art in general but also with ArtPrize and the unique format of the competition, so it made it easy to follow along by following him through each exhibit.
“More Art Upstairs” is not a Cinderella, underdog story with a triumphant win at the end that nobody expected to happen. This is a real story about real artists who just want to appeal to the public by showing them their art and interacting with them, which is a stark contrast to what artist are used to in their quiet galleries.
The simplicity of the film, with limited music to guide the viewer’s emotions, leads to a very authentic viewing of the documentary, almost as if you are right there in the middle of Grand Rapids, Mich. casting your vote for the winner of ArtPrize.