Goings-On at ArtPrize: A Q&A With Tamara Kostianovsky

"Relic," Tamara Kostianovsky, 2015, installation view, UICA. Photo courtesy of the artist.
“Relic,” Tamara Kostianovsky, 2015, installation view, UICA. Photo courtesy of the artist.

ArtPrize 2015 is the seventh iteration of the annual art competition that features hundreds of artists from all over the world vying for hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money. It also takes over enough local venues in its host city of Grand Rapids, Michigan—162 spaces are involved, according to this year’s count, within a mere three square miles—that one wonders if it’s possible for much else to go on in the same town at the same time.

At any rate, now that ArtPrize Seven is nearing the end of its 19-day duration, meaning that so many hefty award sums will very soon be awarded—winners will be announced on October 9th—we wanted to catch up with just one more NYC artist who is exhibiting and buzzing about in the ArtPrize runnings.

As such, below is our exchange with Tamara Kostianovsky. Our previously posted conversations are with Judith Braun and Diana Shpungin.

How and when did you get involved with ArtPrize 2015?

I responded to an open call by the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art (UICA), in which they were looking for artists to include in a show that was going to be presented during ArtPrize7.  The exhibition was to be entitled SENSE, and the curators were looking for artists that could present site-responsive solo projects articulating a relationship to one or more of the senses. Because of the formal and conceptual connections that my work has to taste, touch, and sight, I decided to apply. I was also excited to be a part of ArtPrize, an international art competition that had been on my radar for a while.

What were some of the biggest challenges in planning and executing your work for the show? Did you meet your own expectations?

My involvement with the UICA and ArtPrize has absolutely surpassed my expectations. I found myself working with a very dedicated team that offered professional and financial resources to complete an ambitious project. The planning started six months before the exhibition, so I had time to really understand the architecture of the gallery and develop a project that could command the space.

The biggest challenge for me was internalizing the massive scale of ArtPrize. With an audience of 8,000 per day, one definitely feels the pressure to make something ‘effective’. I thought of this as an opportunity to push my work further, which resulted in the design of a show with a centralized composition that gave a centripetal, unifying force to the gallery space. My goal was to contribute a memorable project that clearly read as a whole, something that would stand out among the myriad of work presented during ArtPrize.    

Can you name some other artists whose work you’ve discovered or come to know better thanks to ArtPrize? Who would be on your short list for an award—aside from yourself, of course!

The mesmerizing work of Anila Quayyum Agha, who took the Grand Prize last year, was what inspired me to take part in ArtPrize7. As for this year, I seem to mostly agree with the jurors who selected 20 projects out of 1,500 entries—and fortunately have decided to include mine in the selection. If pressed to make an even smaller selection, I would shortlist the project In Our Element by Ruben Ubiera, an immersive mural telling the history of street art; Whisper, a project by Emily Kennerk, where the viewer activates the sculpture by softly whispering into a microphone; and Higher Ground by Kate Gilmore, a poetic performance in a house where women in white dresses swing on swings mounted from the ceiling in front of open windows.

What has kept you busier at ArtPrize, making your artwork, looking at the artwork of others, networking or answering journalists’ questions (wink)?

Making the work and coordinating the logistics for the installation have kept me really busy in the past six months. Looking at the work of others and trying to keep up with the media frenzy that has built up around ArtPrize has also stolen a few hours of my time most recently.

What do you think about Grand Rapids? Anything you found there that you wish we had back in NYC?

I’ve been very touched by the openness to contemporary art I have experienced in Grand Rapids. From the cab drivers to the coffee shop owners, to the curators and the many ArtPrize volunteers, everybody recognizes the value of contemporary art in bringing an unparalleled level of energy to the city. It’s an optimistic city with a go-getter mentality, where there is physical space to make and exhibit art—and time to appreciate it. New York’s art world seems so over-developed in comparison, with established art institutions everywhere and the burden of expensive real estate often limiting the growth of art production. There’s something very attractive to me about the possibilities that Grand Rapids offers, and I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, as I’ve met artists whose lives were transformed by the ArtPrize experience and decided to move their practices to that city.

What else is on your horizon this year and into 2016? Exhibits, fairs, catalogues?

I’m completing an artist residency at Governors Island with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and am currently working on bringing my ArtPrize exhibition to New York. Not ready to make a formal announcement, but please stay tuned.

Paul D’Agostino is @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.




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