Monday, September 23, 2013


Pure Michigan has been advertising about their great state.  At this time of the year one of the major events is called ArtPrize “a radically open, independently organized international art competition with an unprecedented $200,000 top prize decided entirely by public vote.” This all takes place within three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids this year from September 18 through October 6 and the culmination of an art appreciation trip that began in Detroit, going through Ann Arbor and Lansing, with final visuals in Grand Rapids.  More on that, later.

Delta dawn with a direct flight to Detroit.  Meetings, greetings and lunch at Maccabee’s on Woodward Avenue.  The historic building itself is part of the Wayne State University campus with a restaurant that’s “antique” in décor. 

What was on the menu of their American bistro-style cuisine?   With many appetizers to choose from, I decided on the Reuben Quesadillia even though they are noted for having potato pancake sandwiches. I was in the mood for a hearty salad like the Old Main with baby spinach, arugula, dried cherries, walnuts, cucumbers and fried goat cheese.  I had an addition of shrimp with this.

My art stop began with the Heidelberg Project an open-air ménage of creations that look as if the parts were taken from a junk yard.  In fact most of the art has been created from recycled materials. You won’t find “name” artists.  Instead, Tyree Guyton, an artist himself, set up the space for emerging local artists centering on art that draws attention to the blight and decay of Detroit.  

There are several long blocks to explore in this lower east side neighborhood that was formerly home to Coleman A. Young who must have made an impression on the city.  Riding through downtown Detriot I viewed a green-hued bronze statue located at Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.  The figure, entitled The Spirit of Detroit,  (not of Coleman) appeared to be holding a family in one hand and an orb in the other.  

One piece that stood out in HP was a part of a hummer which was pointed out as being something that could be recycled into homes. You can request a group tour for further insight. recycled into homes. You can request a group tour for further insight.

MOCAD, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, is located in a 22,000 square foot building that was a former auto dealership. They are a non-collecting institution, so one should not expect an “Andy Warhol” piece and artists are from all over the world. Each of the rooms is spacious and allow for some larger exhibits.  Two of the rooms feature ongoing films. There is a large space devoted to being a café and set up for an event such as documentary and art-based films as well as music performances. Check out the Mobile Homestead abutting the parking lot.  There is a suggested admission price of $5.


It is check-in time at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel in downtown Detroit and up to the second floor lobby with much space for hanging out with friends or co-workers. In fact, due to the rain upon us, the scheduled Walking Tour took place here with loads of information given by D:Hive.  One thing for sure is that Detroit is more than simply cars and Motown.

Prior to leaving New York, I registered for Starwood Preferred which basically put me on a Starwood Preferred floor with extra amenities such as ones in the bathroom and having a refrigerator.  Regardless of which room you choose, the bottled water is complimentary and has a tag that says so.  This is also a “Green” hotel with both recycling efforts and being energy efficient.  A trip to the club lounge provides a great view of the Canadian city of Windsor as well as indulging in snacks and a continental breakfast. 

The Whitney is an 1894 mansion turned restaurant that has its own unique cuisine. I dined with others in one of the rooms on the first floor in order to sample a chef’s tasting. There is quite a large amount of history and decorative artwork located in this Library.  There are three floors of eye pleasing woodwork to explore.  Ask for a tour although you will not be able to view all 52 rooms. .  Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit the gardens, which I hear are spectacular.  There is a grand piano in the main hall and music creates an even more romantic environment.

Let’s get to the food that Chef Greg Pawlowski sent out.  Appetizers are one of the best ways to sample a menu, so let’s start with that.  Hamachi and Tuna Tartare – Yuzu marmalade, wasabi caviar and a spicy aioli. Chesapeake Bay Lump Crab Brick Roll – pickled spring vegetables, stone ground mustard sauce.  Calamari – lightly breaded, lemon aioli, thyme Beurre  Blanc. Eggplant Bruschetta – baked artisan baguette with flash fried eggplant and house pickled vegetables. Shrimp Bisque – the creamy kind.  For an entrée:  Beef Wellington – tenderloin of beef wrapped with prosciutto, spinach, mushroom duxelle in a pastry with a veal cabernet sauce. There was more.


Day two began with a visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts, said to be one of the foremost art museums in the US.  Located in Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center Historic District, there are more than 60,000 works that take in a multicultural array from ancient times through the present.  The major part of the collection is in European painting, Italian Renaissance sculpture, French decorative art, African art, American painting and Islamic textiles

Upon entering through the main hall I viewed a fresco cycle by Diego Rivera called Detroit Industry.   Look closely and you can see one area that has some familiar faces from the funnies.  Although I was free to explore the museum on my own, I thought that it would be best to have a guided tour, being there for the first time. This museum has more than 100 galleries with over 700,000 square feet.  No, I did not see it all nor attend a film session in their 1,150 seat theatre. I did see a piece from the Heidelberg Project, a recycled street sign of Rosa Parks Blvd. 

Admission cost is $8 for adults.  It’s not just members that are entitled to free admission but residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties as well.

There’s nothing like a little hands on art at the Motawi Tileworks as I continue to Ann Arbor. A tour (offered free of charge on Thursdays at 11 a.m.) of the facilities first centered on exactly how the tile art is created beginning with the option of choosing a pattern and tracing over it or the artist simply letting her talents go.  We continued to another area to view the tile making process itself as the materials and tile went from one machine to another, the mass production of a tile and a room where tile artists are performing the creations. 

I then sat down at table and given the simple tile and various items to use in order to create one of my own.  I should have either found a pattern or had someone else do the drawing as my brain’s pictures do not seem to reach my hand.  In other words, I can look at something and recreate it with no problem but don’t ask me to “draw or horse”.  I’m happy that I brought a tile home. 

Lunch is in order here on South Main Street in Ann Arbor. I joined a group for another tasting at Lena, a restaurant with an upscale and modern cuisine that touches on various Latin influences.  Seated at the front window area a gas fireplace, described as a “mid-century modern 1960’s look” was burning yet not intrusive. The long kitchen located in the back area is open for viewing.  Executive Chef Gabriel Vera introduced himself sharing his passion for cooking with ingredients that are both local and of high quality.  Being that this trip centers on art, presentation is important as I snapped away.  

Among the items were: Plantain Tostones - smashed fried plantains with fresh tomato salsa, chimichurri, and melted chihauhau cheese. 

Ecuadorian Humitas - fresh corn cakes with lemongrass-tomato stew and melted queso fresco. 

Roasted Beet Salad - with dressed frisee lettuce, toasted pine nuts, avocado puree, queso fresco and Cara Cara orange segments.

Compressed Watermelon - with fresh tomatoes, arugula, red wine vinaigrette, pistachio powder and whipped goat cheese.

 Fish Tacos: with black bean menestra, rice, lettuce, escabeche salsa, and Ecuadorian chimichurri.

There was much more including a Cuban sandwich and Sweet Potato gnocci.  I was just too busy savoring or I would have gotten photos as well. Dessert was skipped as we headed for another food destination. 

Frita Batidos was just a few blocks away on West Washington St.   Eve Aronoff is the owner/chef of this “find”.  Long “picnic tables” allowed for another tasting of Cuban street food that focuses on burgers (fritas) and milk shakes (batidos).  Need I say that we skipped the fritas. A traditional batido combines fresh tropical fruit with ice cream and a spoonful of ice.  We sampled a traditional one with passion fruit, one with tropical fruit and a non-traditional coconut cream.  Our taste buds still yearned for a dessert of the Churros with Chocolate Espanol for dunking.  

In the world of fine arts, I have been able to recognize a small amount of artists such as Picasso, Chagall, and Van Gogh and perhaps Rodin.  As a native of New York City, and ridden the subway, I am able to spot a bronze by Tom Otterness.  “Life Underground” is the title of the four scenarios.  It is at the Eli & Edythe Broad Museum, located on the campus of Michigan State University, in East Lansing, that I encounter “Fallen Rich” lying on one floor amongst a present exhibit, “Future Tense: The Broad Museum Collects”. 

Eli and Edythe Broad are the Philanthropists while Zaha Hadid is the architect and by all means the architect alone is worth a view.  Highlights of the museum's collection include: Greek and Roman antiquities; medieval and Renaissance illuminations; Old Master paintings; 19th century American paintings; 20th century sculpture by artists such as Alexander Calder and Jenny Holzer; and works by contemporary artists such as Chuck Close and Ann Hamilton.  Add the changing exhibits.

If you think that Detroit is the capital of Michigan, you are not alone in the error. Lansing houses the capitol building as well as another art stop, the Saper Galleries. Being a gallery venue, there wasn’t much walking to do and I found this particular art stop to be one of the most “eye appealing”.

Owner Roy Saper purchases the art for his gallery, Thus there is nothing on consignment.  What stands out about the structure itself is the skylights which provide the natural filtered light.  Art collectors can expect more than 1,500 works of art by about 150 artists. It’s a changing inventory here with painting, drawings, limited edition prints, sculpture, hand-blown glass, bas-reliefs, kinetic light sculptures, holographs and more.  What matters to them is their own evaluation of the artist’s work and not who they are or how the reviewers rate them. There are several rooms to view the artworks of every medium, style and price range.  Roy not only gave us an explanatory tour but shared how he acquired the Hebron Glass Collection…ask him about it when you’re there.

I checked out the Dr. Seuss art as well as a wall of about 170 ceramic relief tiles (not from Motawi) by Israeli artist Ruth Faktor.

All of this art made me hungry.  I’m off to Red Haven for dinner with a menu that I would describe the cuisine as being “farm to table, small plates”. Designed by Executive Chef Anthony Maiale III, the focus is in utilizing local farmers.  Anthony had formerly teamed up with Nina Santucci to open a food truck called The Purple Carrot. Their success led them to being co-owners of Red Haven.

Each of the plates is categorized by either title or method of cooking. They are made for sharing as if you were at a Chinese restaurant and having dim sum.  A “double shooter” size bisque of corn, cream, bacon, and Serrano whet my appetite for other items such as a mash using Yukon potatoes with dill beet and salmon roe.  Grilled strip steak with broccoli, tarragon, mustard and rice was a good compliment to a seared dish of white fish, trout, pepper, arugula and chive.

Leaving Lansing for Grand Rapids to preview ArtPrize and check into Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. This original 1913 Patlind with English Adams architecture was renovated, reopening in 1981.  The décor alone is worth a tour of the first floor that seems to house everything except the accommodations. 

At one end a fountained garden abuts a two level bar and concierge. Across the way are an enclosed shoe shine stand, reception desk, and business center.  Along with the usual gift shop, there is a separate boutique and art gallery.  It was also my introduction to ArtPrize as this hotel served as one of the venues for the competing artists.  There were 28 pieces in all including the ones that stood out in the lobby: God’s Kitchen, Figurehead, and Shelley in Morning-glory. If you come to Grand Rapids minus ArtPrize, there are still many art venues to explore. 

Many wedding receptions are held at this hotel, especially during ArtPrize.  I’m guessing that it gives their guests the opportunity to keep occupied in downtown Grand Rapids and free of charge.

My room was located in the Tower with access to the Club Lounge. The elevators were located at the other end as I passed two restaurants, one a more casual and the other "upscale".

Clean, comfortable, the whole bit.  What really stood out about Amway Grand Plaza was the service. Noted was when the bellhop brought my luggage and used an actual rubber doorstop to keep the door open as he entered the room.  This is a security issue that most hotels do not abide by, especially when one encounters a woman who is traveling alone.  Kudos to whoever did the teaching! 

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park was the art start of the day. The 132-acre park is both a botanic and sculpture experience having Michigan’s largest tropical conservatory of three indoor theme gardens along with nature trails, sculpture galleries and shear beauty for both the eyes and nose. One of the largest children’s gardens in the country is here as well as Victorian gardens with bronze sculptures by Degas and Rodin.    

A tram tour was offered with a most knowledgeable guide to point out just about all of the sculptures in their permanent collection.  We made a stop to view the installation of the new Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden, and where the structures would be located.  A construction group from Japan was at work as this 8.5 acre addition is expected to be completed by 2015.   

As for ArtPrize, there is a sculpture gallery with over 20 entries set up for the viewing and voting. There is no charge unless you are interested in touring the rest of the facilities.

Grand Rapids Public Museum was the only other museum that I visited in this city. Take a spin on a 1928 Carousel complete with a fully functional band organ. Hear the story of the direct descendants of the original Ottawa, Potawatomi and Chippewa people of West Michigan in the exhibit, Anishinabek: the People of the Past. Kids, tour the halls of the museum while searching for hidden treasures from every letter of the alphabet. Stroll through a full-scale detailed re-creation of Grand Rapids in the 1890s and be transported back in time.  See the inner works of the original clock salvaged from the old City Hall. These are just some of what you’ll view on three levels of the art of collections. 

There was one impacting traveling exhibit entitled “Grandmother Power, A Global Phenomenon”; how grandmothers stood up for their grandchildren in the fight for political, social and economic justice.

At this site ArtPrize pieces are all outdoors.  I viewed part of the installation of “Silkwaves in the Grand” as the artists were walking along the Grand River.


Most of the ArtPrize submissions had been completed while others were being put together.  There was certainly much to view as I toured the city.  With murals up as well, it was hard to tell at first sight as to whether they were permanent.

One of my favorites, “Hummingbird at Hovers”, is located on the corner of Monroe Avenue NW and Pearl Street. It is described as, “a 3 dimensional sculpture of a hummingbird with its beak inside the petal of a Lilly. The flower and hummingbird is mounted to an art deco style base that will raises the piece to a height of approximately 6 feet. The wings of the hummingbird are motorized to simulate the hovering action of a bird feeding on a flower. The overall size of the bird is 14" diameter by 43" long.”

You can’t beat pairing your art with beer joints and Michigan is certainly noted for having many craft breweries.  Grand Rapids Brewing Company for instance, had 11 ArtPrize works indoors as well as one just outside.  This particular company prides itself on having organic beer.  In fact, they are the first USDA Certified organic brewery in Michigan as well as on of less than two dozen in the country.

What does it mean?  Let’s start with the wheat which arrives in whole grains.  There is a small mill to grind the grain into wheat, one of a main ingredient in beer making.  Think of it as coffee beans and buying them whole or ground and how fresh it stays.  The hops (the flowery plant that provided the bitter or tangy flavor), malt (from barley) and fruit are gotten from organic farms. Having organic beer allows for more clarity in the flavor.  Expect a farm to table food menu.  

Founders Brewing Company on Grandville Avenue is a whole other scene.  With inside and outdoor areas, it is more conducive to “partying”, “mingling”, and “grubbing” (vs. fine dining).  Owners Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers go back quite far as friends turned business partners.  With many ups and downs, they were determined to get this place going.  Having a huge following certainly assisted and needless to say, it’s all about the award winning beers.  Jeremy Kosmicki, the brew master, is responsible for most of the recipes and there is certainly enough to choose from. In fact, their bottled beers are available in stores, bars, and restaurants all around the US. As for ArtPrize, there were 6 including one outdoor piece just at the entrance.  Live entertainment a few nights per week. 

Due to the distance logistics of ArtPrize, Brewery Vivant, the third bar stop, was unable to participate. Located at 925 Cherry Street, they are a small company, with Belgian tradition, and a former chapel building of a funeral home, that gives the feel of being a monk.  Good brew.    

Reserve, a restaurant located at 201 Monroe St. NW, was more than just a simple fine dining restaurant.  Sashy over to the wine bar for a view of a unique system for dispensing wines by the glass.  It allows the wines to stay at the correct temperature, control portions, provide a wider variety for customers, and extend the wine’s freshness. Just above the bar is the 2009 ArtPrize winner, “Open Water #24”.

“Local” is the cuisine’s key word. Mathew Green is the Executive Chef while Brandon Sturm is the Charcuterier, responsible for creating the Charcuterie and Cheese menu.  A few tidbits of appetizers included vanilla bacon and Pork and Garlic Rillette, better known in the Providence of Quebec as Creton.   Chicken and Dumplings was my main course.  Delicious, but much on the salty side. 


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