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Profile: Rick DeVos

There’s this prevailing idea that art shows are the worst. They call to mind stuffy people with whiny voices and thin mustaches looking over abstract paintings with magnifying glasses. And, in some cases, it’s true. There is plenty of that in the art world.

But there’s also the type of art show put on by Rick DeVos, who turns three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. area into one of the world’s wildest, weirdest and most whimsical art galleries in the world for a couple weeks out of every year. His event is called ArtPrize, and it’s turned the uptight art world upside down.

For starters, there’s the prize. The winner takes home $200,000—which is a lot of money, even for an art competition. Then there’s the jury, which includes anyone who cares to show up. Hyper-pretentious artists have no monopoly on what art is most moving at ArtPrize. If you show up, you get a say. It’s that simple.

And then there’s DeVos himself. His grandfather co-founded Amway, so he’s not without connections, but you wouldn’t know it to talk to him. He’s articulate and bracingly, almost uncomfortably honest, but he’s got a ready laugh too. According to DeVos, art isn’t something to be poked and prodded over in hushed tones in staid museums, but a living, wild experience to be enjoyed.

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“The goal is to enhance the velocity of ideas in west Michigan,” he says. “It’s just two and a half weeks of no rules.”

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