Big Red Thing

As you've noticed by now, LAMB makes occassional references to the Calder, GR's beloved (or not) sculptural moniker. As you may have also noticed on G-RAD's front page, Jennifer Mikulay is doing a project utilizing its imagery. Rather than give you another synopsis, we're publishing the statement for your infotainment:

In 1969, the citizens of Grand Rapids dedicated a gigantic red stabile by Alexander Calder as the heart of an ambitious urban renewal effort. Designed to announce a new, spirited civic center, the sculpture embodies notions of the public sphere that are under much critical pressure today. Contemporary art historians often suggest that public sculptures of this type are passé, but how have citizen experiences with and responses to La Grande Vitesse developed over time? How do ordinary citizens define, use, and produce this arguably still quite prototypical public art work?

A new research project argues that vernacular photography has much to tell us about the relationship between citizens and public art. To test this claim, Civic Studio will mount a drive to collect photographs of Calder's sculpture created by local residents over its nearly 40-year lifespan. Photos will be collected by hand, via email, and through a website upload utility. The goal is to collect several hundred photographs created by Grand Rapidians from all walks of life. The collected photos will be displayed at Civic Studio, online, and at a poster session in February at the College Art Association's annual conference. The researcher is currently seeking additional venues to display the photographs.

The researcher, Jennifer Geigel Mikulay, is a Ph.D. candidate in visual culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is writing her dissertation about public art in Grand Rapids, and she teaches visual culture at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.

Furthermore, the press release goes something like this:

GVSU students participating in a course called Civic Studio seek photographs of Alexander Calder’s Grand Rapids stabile. According to associate professor of art Paul Wittenbraker, “Civic Studio aims to document a full range of experiences with the Calder, from 1969 to the present.” The public is invited to contribute photographs that may be old or new, everyday or special occasion, print or digital, black/white or color. The project, entitled “Big Red Thing” after a common nickname for Calder’s sculpture, is part of a research project coordinated by University of Wisconsin graduate student Jenny Mikulay. Civic Studio will collect photographs between October 15 and November 15, 2006.

Photos may be contributed in person or by mail, email, or website upload. To contribute a photo in person and receive assistance making a scan, visit Civic Studio at the Rapid Central Station, 250 Grandville SW on Mondays from 6 to 8 p.m., Tuesdays 5 to 7 p.m., or Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Contributors may also mail photographs with a SASE to Civic Studio Big Red Thing Project, 300 Ellsworth NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. To contribute by email, please send a message to To contribute via website upload, visit

Civic Studio, a course that investigates the role of artists in their community, is led by Wittenbraker. Students Zyra Castillo, Jennifer Dunbar, Dean Foster, Giles Hefferan, and Sara Wassenaar are coordinating the photo drive in collaboration with Mikulay.

Posted on October 17, 2006 12:41 AM


Thanks for the nice promo note re: bigredthing.

One correction, the project website is now active at:

Posted by: paul on October 23, 2006 6:34 PM

All fixed. -ed.

Posted by: jdawe on October 24, 2006 10:46 AM

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