Outside Grand Rapids City Hall, the curving, swooping lines of Alexander Calder’s 43-foot-tall cardinal-red sculpture, La Grande Vitesse, evoke a sense of smooth, flowing motion. The same goes for Maya Lin’s architectural Ecliptic, a circular summer amphitheater (and winter ice skating rink) in downtown’s Rosa Parks Circle. And the linear Blue Bridge, spanning the city-splitting Grand River, may not have been intended as a piece of art (it was built in the 1800s as a railroad bridge), but there’s a certain beauty in the way its signature color echoes the river below and the sky above.
The Blue Bridge (yes, that's its real name) gets pedestrians across the Grand River. Photo by Johnny Quirin.
Works of art (some of them water-inspired) infuse Michigan’s second-largest city with visual beauty. Some, like Ecliptic and the Blue Bridge, are permanent. But not all are: Every September, a flood of new public art installations sweeps through the city for the annual ArtPrize festival, just when the maples, beeches and sumacs begin to take on their autumn hues. That makes now the best time to take in the visual feast.
Warm days and cool evenings make this a good season to explore on foot. At the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, take in approximately 300 works of art (including The American Horse, a work by artist Nina Akamu that was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci drawings) on 158 acres of meadows and woods. “What we do is art in the natural world,” chief curator and vice president Joseph Becherer says, “and it’s an absolutely breathtaking time.”
The architecture of the glass, steel and concrete Grand Rapids Art Museum is as renowned as the works inside. The first and third floors house permanent collections and fresh exhibits covering 19th-century landscapes, modern abstracts and the art of furniture (an industry that sustained Grand Rapids through the 19th century).
The American Horse at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park (left). Photo by John Robert William. Grand Rapids Art Museum (right). Photo by John Noltner.
The art museum sits adjacent to Rosa Parks Circle, a tree-dotted urban plaza with space for concerts. The plaza is a work of art itself, designed by Vietnam Veterans Memorial artist Maya Lin. The amphitheater features fiber-optic points in the floor representing the midnight sky over the city on January 1, 2000.
A few blocks away, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts screens art-house flicks, hosts performance artists and curates contemporary art exhibitions. This fall, check out two ArtPrize-related shows: Future Talk, focused on digital and new media art, and Superusted, showcasing the works of 17 Midwest artists.
ArtPrize (left). A path along the Grand River (right). Photos by Johnny Quirin.
Heading into its 10th year in 2018, the ArtPrize competition connects artists from around the globe with local venues for an event that turns Grand Rapids itself into an art gallery. New works appear in hospitals, hotels, parks and corporate buildings. The competition moves to a biannual schedule after 2018, alternating with a different art-focused fall event that will also encourage exploration and education throughout the community.
In the heart of the city, the 6½-acre Ah-Nab-Awen Park hugs the banks of the Grand River. The park features replica Native American mounds and its works of art honor western Michigan’s three major tribes. It’s also home to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and connects to walking and cycling paths tracing the river and showcasing the colorful trees.
Ah-Nab-Awen Park. Photo by Johnny Quirin.
Throughout the month of September, migrating salmon leap up seven tiers of pools at Fish Ladder Park. The functional sculpture designed by local artist Joseph Kinnebrew lets fish bypass the nearby rapids and positions people overhead to watch the action. Check fishing reports at michigan.gov/dnr to see what weeks the salmon will be most active.
At six.one.six, the restaurant inside the downtown J.W. Marriott, Michigan’s abundant produce influences the ever-changing menu. Dinner might include kale salad with tart local cherries, roasted pork tenderloin with mushrooms, or chicken breast with carrots and preserved lemons.
Brewery Vivant turned the chapel of a former funeral home into a bastion of French and Belgian ales. If you opt for a tasting flight, we suggest including the dark, roasty Undertaker and the classic golden Belgian Tripel. Even the traditional pub food gets a Continental twist: You might nosh on pomme frites, duck confit nachos, escargot or Belgian waffles topped with blueberry jam.
six.one.six (left). Amway Grand Plaza Hotel (right). Photos by Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux.
The opulent Amway Grand Plaza consists of the historic Pantlind Wing building and a modern 29-story glass tower addition. Ask at the front desk for a map leading to the largest gold leaf domed ceiling in the United States and three Austrian crystal chandeliers. Guest rooms offer luxe touches like supersoft sheets and (in some) Grand River views. From $219 per night.