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Make an Artful Getaway to Michigan's second city
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When it comes to culture, comfort and cuisine, Michigan's second-largest city is striving to become No. 1. It recently unveiled the new Grand Rapids Art Museum, opened the first Midwest edition of a JW Marriott, the chain's luxury brand, and debuted a groundbreaking European-style gastropub.
Meanwhile, the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, fast becoming the most significant sculpture and botanical venue in the Midwest, has snagged another blockbuster show. It is the only Midwest venue for the important impressionist exhibition "Degas in Bronze: The Complete Sculptures." It presents 73 sculptures in total (plus sketches and other collateral material) and runs May 30 through Aug. 31. The exhibition is organized by Joseph S. Czestochowski, International Arts, and is from the collections of MASP, Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
French sculptor and painter Edgar Degas (1834-1917) is considered one of the most important artists of the 19th century. He spent a lifetime investigating the figure in motion through countless studies of ballerinas, racehorses and bathers. He worked privately and relentlessly on small composite sculptures, but he exhibited only one completed sculpture: "Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen."
IF YOU GO
Grand Rapids Michigan
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park (888) 957-1580, www.meijergardens.org; Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau (800) 678-9859, www.visitgrandrapids.org; Travel Michigan (888) 784-7328, www.michigan.org.
Grand Rapids is about 180 miles northeast of Chicago.
It was not until after the artist's death in 1917 and the contents of his studio were inventoried, that the extent of his work in sculpture was made known and more than 150 works in clay and wax were discovered. The following year, Degas' heirs authorized a series edition of bronze casts to be made from 73 of the fragile wax and clay figures, utilizing master foundry man Albino Palazzolo at the famed Paris foundry A.A. Hebrard et Cie.
This high-profile exhibition presents an extraordinary opportunity for people in the region to experience Degas' work in sculpture, notes Meijer sculpture curator Joseph Becherer. "This group is one of only four complete sets in the world," he says, "allowing visitors the rare opportunity to understand the brilliance of the artist's ideas about three-dimensional form."
Encompassing 132 acres, Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park feature one of the Midwest's most comprehensive collections of sculpture, including internationally acclaimed works by Rodin, Oldenburg, Moore, Rickey and di Suvero.
Its signature installation is "Leonardo da Vinci's Horse," a 24-foot-tall, 8-ton bronze sculpture by Nina Akamu. Da Vinci made the original sketches for the horse 500 years ago upon receiving a commission from the Duke of Milan. The world has only two such sculptures, one in Milan, the other in Grand Rapids.
Also enhancing the city's considerable art scene is the new Grand Rapids Art Museum, or GRAM, located downtown and built at a cost of $75 million. It offers more than three times the exhibit space of its predecessor.
Hailed for leading edge "green" design, the entire museum is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. One of its inaugural exhibitions, running through June 1, examines key elements of the museum's green design.
The museum incorporates energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems and strict recycling systems for water and operational supplies. Its innovative water-collection plant reduces GRAM's demand for city-treated water by 20 percent. Visitors enjoy 70 percent natural light, as well as views of outdoor courtyards and indigenous plants and trees. Museum store merchandise is environmentally friendly, with 30 percent of inventory including recycled paper notebooks, organic cotton clothing and recycled fashion accessories.
The museum's central urban location allows for easy access by public transportation and bicycle. Established in 1910, GRAM has grown to include more than 5,000 works of art, including American and European 19th- and 20th-century painting and sculpture.
One of its current exhibitions (through June 15) showcases more than 100 of Andy Warhol's paintings and prints. Included are his famous silkscreen portfolios of subjects ranging from Campbell's soup to former Chinese leader Mao Zedong. Forever linked to the pop art movement, Andy Warhol dominated American culture in the 1960s, drawing his subjects from the mass media.
To go along with the luxurious 682-room Amway Grand Plaza, long a "splurge" favorite in downtown Grand Rapids, is the JW Marriott Grand Rapids, which opened in September. This 337-room property provides first-class amenities that include a rooftop helipad (so you'll have somewhere to park your chopper). It is one of only 16 JW locations the U.S.
Guest rooms feature wireless Internet, 37-inch flat-screen television and luxurious bedding. The hotel's signature restaurant, six.one.six (named for the local area code), offers globally inspired cuisine made as much as possible with locally grown produce. Located on the main floor of the hotel's 23-level atrium, Mixology lounge offers a menu of classic cocktails mixed with fresh juices and offers a selection of foods that can be prepared in five to 20 minutes.
Should you choose to stay at the popular Amway, you can add an extra touch of indulgent luxury by selecting a Tower Club room. It brings VIP service with private concierge and a lounge where continental breakfast and hot hors d'oeuvres in the evening are served.
Another newcomer is The Green Well, a European-style gastropub that also utilizes local food producers (and also is built to LEED standards). A large percentage of the meat it serves -- beef, pork and lamb -- is obtained from local farmers or vendors, as are such items as goat cheese and a variety of produce. The restaurant offers wine, cocktails and microbrews with 20 draft beers on tap.
MikeMichaelson is a travel writer based in Chicago and the author of the guidebook "Chicago's Best-Kept Secrets."