Building Toward the Future: GRAM's Winter Exhibitions

The Grand Rapids Art Museum’s five current exhibitions immerses attendees in everything from the bright and colorful world of LEGO to the way photography can freeze a moment in time, allowing it to live even after its photographer has shuffled off this mortal coil.

Brick by Brick: The Creative Art of LEGO (now through May 31) is the first in what will be an annual celebration of the iconic toys and of LEGO the company, a name that didn’t exist before 1934 (Ole Kirk Christiansen, owner of the company, had a contest to name the company; the winner got a bottle of homemade wine). Today, LEGO is so strongly identified with childhood nostalgia that it might surprise people to learn that the modern, stackable plastic bricks were only introduced into America in the early 1960s. 

The GRAM’s exhibition features several creative and well-designed pieces, including some linked to pop culture (one in particular is sure to delight Twin Peaks fans). There’s a drawing activity, and an invitation to build with LEGOs yourself; on a recent visit, two young girls (10 and seven years old) spent twenty minutes creating, and would have spent far longer, had their writer father allowed.

Uncharted Ways Through: Maps, Land, And The Image (now through April 7) celebrates the practical art of mapmaking, an art that has brought our world closer together, both to great benefit and at great cost. Maps act as spur to the imagination and as a tool for conquest; by defining borders, they also define what lies outside of them.

One of the pieces on display, Viviano Norwood’s Recasting Grand Rapids, makes use of kilncasting in conjunction with modern technology. The city’s structure was created with a 3-D printer, which was then used to form a rubber mold for the kilncasted glass. It’s a recently developed technique, but the result feels older. The piece is a small wooden table on which has been set a three-dimensional rendering of downtown Grand Rapids, with streets that seem made out of wood and buildings that might have been carved from frozen honey but are actually entirely glass: a remarkable blend of technology and the organic world.

This Decisive Moment: Sports Photography from GRAM’s Collection (now through March 10) gathers together exemplary work featuring everyone from passionate amateurs to athletes as legendary as Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali. Along with capturing indelible moments, the exhibition also displays the evolution of the art form itself, from the 19th Century technology used to capture sumo wrestlers to the digital cameras used today.

Particularly evocative is Jacques-Henri Lartique’s 1912: Paris. La Singer de Course: “Bunny III.” Taken when the photographer was in his teens, it displays with wonderful clarity a bicyclist pulled up next to an automobile driver and the perambulator who strolls in the distance: a scene then modern that, having sunk irretrievably into the past, now hums with poignancy and charm.

Sky Hopinka: Mnemonics of Shape and Reason (now through April 28) features work by Hopinka, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño, work that explores poetry, imagery, and sound in order to explore both memory and self in the wider context of indigenous history and life.

The connection between self and the world is made explicit through this cinematic work. In one still, the outline of a person is imposed over a beautiful landscape, a reminder that, for all our uniqueness, we are part of, and bound by, history and the world. 

Border Cantos (February 3 through April 28), a collaboration between photographer Richard Misrach and composer/artist Guillermo Gallindo, brings to Canada-adjacent Michigan the realities of life at our country’s Southern border. Sound and image unite to document the pain and complexities of this urgent concern.

As with all of GRAM’s exhibitions, Border Cantos will leave attendees carrying out of the building more than they carried in: experiences that linger.

Grand Rapids Art Museum
101 Monroe Center St. NW, Grand Rapids


Photo Courtesy of The Grand Rapids Art Museum.