Herron School of Art and Design professor Anila Quayyum Agha has won the two top prizes at ArtPrize 2014, earning a record $300,000 in the international art competition held in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Her entry, titled “Intersections,” earned the ArtPrize 2014 Public Vote Grand Prize of $200,000 and split the Juried Grand Prize of $200,000 in a tie with “The Haircraft Project,” by artist Sonya Clark of Richmond, Va.
Agha’s wins mark the first time one entry has won both the ArtPrize grand prize awarded by popular vote and the grand prize awarded by a jury of international art experts. Her total prize is also the highest amount given to one individual in the competition, which awards the world’s largest art prize.
The professor’s unprecedented success was no surprise to Susan Scarafia, a 1983 IU Kelley School of Business graduate who traveled to Grand Rapids to join the thousands of visitors — including Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder — who viewed the entries on display at venues within the three-mile square art district in downtown Grand Rapids.
“I thought Anila would win from my first look at ‘Intersections,’” Scarafia, who has attended the past four ArtPrize competitions, said Sunday in an email interview. “There was buzz about it online. … once I got to the city, ‘Intersections’ was the piece others recommended most when I asked what I should see.
“But the way I knew, really knew, that ‘Intersections’ would win was that I could see that everyone who saw it was so involved with it. They weren’t just passing by or taking a quick picture. They walked into the room, stopped talking, looked up, looked around and kept looking from different angles. It seemed to me that this art really hooked into people.”
The “hooked” included one man who, while viewing “Intersections,” dropped to his knees and surprised his girlfriend with a marriage proposal, according to a news report.
Agha is associate professor of drawing and foundation studies at Herron, the art school on the IUPUI campus.
The professor’s “Intersections,” completed under a 2012-13 New Frontiers Research Grant from Indiana University, is composed of a 6.5-foot laser-cut wooden cube created using Herron’s new computer numeric control router.
When illuminated by the single bulb installed inside, the wooden frieze casts patterns of light and shadows inspired by the geometric patterning of Islamic sacred places as found in the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. During the 19-day ArtPrize exhibit, which ended Sunday, the entry was on display at the Grand Rapids Art Museum.
“This is a wonderful and well-deserved award for Herron professor Anila Agha,” Herron Dean Valerie A. Eickmeier said. “Her prize-winning installation presents a perfect example of how our new digital technology equipment has assisted the creative work of our faculty. Anila teaches drawing, and her artwork is usually made on paper or fabric. This is the first work that she has created with Herron’s new computer numeric control router. Anila’s achievement provides an excellent example for Herron students as well.”
A smaller version of Agha’s winning entry was on view in the Frank and Katrina Basile Gallery at Herron last fall.
ArtPrize 2014, an independent competition open to anyone 18 or older, included 1,536 entries representing 51 countries and 42 U.S. states and territories. Entries were submitted in 2-D, 3-D, time-based and installation categories.
The contest, which drew 400,000 visitors last year, awarded two grand prizes totaling $400,000 and eight awards in the four categories worth a total of $160,000. ArtPrize has a parallel awards structure, with half of the awards decided by public vote cast by mobile devices or online and half by a jury of international art experts.
“Intersections” was chosen for the popular grand prize by the 41,109 registered voters who cast 398,714 votes.
After three days of deliberation over the 20 finalists selected by category jurors, the grand prize jury of Susan Sollins, Leonardo Drew and Katharina Grosse decided to split the $200,000 prize between “Intersections” and “The Haircraft Project.”
“By the end of our adventure here and after much, much discussion, we came to the conclusion that there were two artists of equal caliber and talent who had risen to the top of our list,” Sollins said. “We felt strongly that both artists had to be recognized equally. In short, there was nothing for it but to declare a tie.”
The winners were announced in Hollywood fashion during an ArtPrize Awards ceremony Oct. 10 at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. A town hall recap of this year’s competition takes place Wednesday, Oct.15.
Agha’s acceptance speech is included in awards ceremony television coverage posted online.