Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a place not often listed on the cultural map of the world, but the folks at Open Concept Gallery are looking to bring a clear message of art and unity to the "Furniture City." Through a collaboration with the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, Open Concept Gallery was able to acquire the neon sculpture "Big Sky Mind" (2007) by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, who is perhaps best known to New Yorkers as the artist who created the "Hell, Yes" sculpture that hung on the facade of the New Museum from 2007-2010. In Rondinone's new work, the 30-foot Buddhist/Beat Generation-inspired sculpture glows brightly with all the colors of the rainbow, sending a message of utopian acceptance to viewers as far as the neighboring highway.
However, due to costs of insurance, transportation and installation, "Big Mind Sky" remains in limbo, waiting for the second phase of the project to be completed. Open Concept Gallery decided to reach out to a larger audience through the fundraising platform Kickstarter in order to close the funding gap. HuffPost Arts interviewed Open Concept curator Zora Carrier about the opposition, its LGBT connection and what it brings to the local community. Read our interview below and contribute to the "Big Mind Sky" Kickstarter campaign here.
HPA: Have you experienced any serious opposition to bringing "Big Mind Sky" to Grand Rapids?
OCG: The process of getting approval to install the piece was unusually long. The Gallery has installed public art pieces in the past, and the approval process has generally taken a few weeks. For "Big Mind Sky," it took five months. Additionally, now that the sculpture has been installed, we are facing the possibility of removal a month earlier than planned.
HPA: The video talked about Grand Rapids, MI being a bit of a conservative place to live. How do you hope "Big Mind Sky" will open people's eyes?
OCG: We wanted to bring "Big Mind Sky" to Grand Rapids because it is an important piece of contemporary art by a world-renowned artist, not solely because it can be viewed as activist art. The sculpture speaks to the idea of opening your mind, being limitless as the sky, which transcends the arena of controversial issues. However, the gallery's mission is to use contemporary art to spark dialogue about important issues in the community, and in West Michigan, LGBT rights is a hot button issue right now. We don't believe we have any answers; the piece isn't intended to support one side or the other -- rather, we hope it brings the issue to the forefront of public thought and keeps it from getting swept under the rug.
HPA: Do you think the meaning behind "Big Mind Sky" will change with its new location?
OCG: Since "Big Mind Sky" is a conceptual piece, it has the ability to rise above time and location; if a city were to install the sculpture twenty years from now, it would speak to a different set of issues, different ways of opening the mind, but the concept would be the same.
HPA: How will "Big Mind Sky" fit into the local art scene? Is it more of a declarative statement or a unifying experience?
OCG: Grand Rapids' local art scene is quite small yet it is vibrant and very aware of what's going on in the contemporary art world, and it has been so supportive of this project. Bringing in Big Mind Sky adds to Grand Rapids' history of housing important works, and has been quite a unifying experience.