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QUEST10NS: Dana Friis-Hansen

Grand Rapids Art Museum Director Dana Friis-Hansen Answers Our 10 Questions

Grand Rapids Art Museum Director Dana Friis-Hansen Answers Our 10 Questions

The Grand Rapids Art Museum director dishes on everything from his favorite hometown haunts to his ideal man-cave.

What you may not know about Grand Rapids, Mich., is that it has some serious street cred when it comes to art. Not only is the city home to the annual ArtPrize, an international competition bringing artists from all over the world with its more than half million dollars prize purse, but Grand Rapids also boasts a downtown park designed by Maya Lin; the exquisite Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park with its vast collection of outdoor art from the likes of Joan Miró, Keith Haring, and Richard Serra, to name a few; and, the meticulously restored Meyer May House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

At the center of it all would be the Grand Rapids Art Museum (above), the world’s first LEED® Gold certified museum, with a permanent collection that contains works from such notables as Richard Diebenkorn, Charles and Ray Eames, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. At its helm, since 2011, stands Dana Friis-Hansen, the museum’s Director and CEO, who we have drawn on for this week’s round of ten questions:

1. Where did you take your last trip?
I had forgotten how fun road trips could be… My parents are moving out of their house in Massachusetts, so I needed to move some family heirlooms I am inheriting. I normally fly to visit them, but this time we drove a rented Jeep and headed west, enjoying a mid-summer drive of nearly 1000 miles across New England, New York State, and into the Midwest.

2. What was your favorite memory from it?
This journey became a “busman’s holiday”: lots of art stops! We shaped our travel route around some museums and art events I wanted to see: Mass MOCA, North Adams, Mass.; The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass.; Olana, Frederick Church’s home in Hudson, N.Y.; an art opening at CR10 art space in Linlithgow, N.Y.; the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, N.Y.; and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y. Eye-popping, lots of fun, and some great meals along the way!

3. If you could, what artwork would you most want to “visit” as a tourist?
I would love to go back in time and visit the original Lascaux Cave and other pre-historic caves and grottoes of Les Eyzies and the Dordogne. How amazing it must be to go underground and enter the world of Cro-Magnon man! And the surrounding, above-ground landscape is spectacular, too.

4. What manmade object (artwork, building, monument, etc.) is worth a trip across the globe to see in person?
Benesse Art Site Naoshima is the name of a little-known contemporary art complex of dazzling contemporary art, amazing architecture, and unique collaborative projects on the islands of Naoshima, Teshima, and Inujima in the Seto Inland Sea. The work of an international mix of artists and architects are sited in small villages, along the water, and nestled into the sides of mountain ridges. It’s an experience like no other.

5. What would you want as your last meal?
One of the most memorable meals of my life was at the restaurant Arzak, in San Sebastian, Spain. We spent the afternoon enjoying the chef’s menu, paired with wines, of course. Each dish was unique—meaning the plate, platter, bowl, or serving vessel, connected to the color, texture, or source of the food placed upon it. I would love to return with a group of friends and family, placing ourselves in their culinary creative hands for a celebration worthy of a life lived to the fullest.

6. What would be your perfect Grand Rapids weekend?
Assuming it is a “First Friday,” I’d stroll along the Avenue for the Arts on Division and check out the galleries and unique, local shops that are open late, then head to LINC neighborhood center in the Madison section for some jazz and spoken word performances. On Saturday morning I’d start with coffee at Lyon St. Café, which serves pastries from Nantucket Bakery, then head to the Fulton Street Farmers Market to grab fresh veggies, local meats, cheeses, breads, and a bouquet of flowers. I like to ride the bike trails, so I might pedal out along the Grand River and then onto the White Pine Trail all the way to Rockford, and have lunch on the deck of Red’s on the River. On the way home I might take in a baseball game at Comstock Park.

If I needed some stylish new threads for a night on the town, I’d check out A.K. Rikk’s, a contemporary boutique for men and women that also has modern furniture. For a special dinner, I would head to Grove and order their tasting menu. I love cinema, so I’d see movie at the historic Wealthy Theatre, or the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art—known locally as the UICA—which screens great independent and foreign films. I might end up on the Westside for after dinner drinks at Long Road Distillery, where only a glass wall separates you from the tanks where your spirits started.

On Sunday I would have a casual breakfast at Bartertown, which specializes in locally-sourced vegan specialties, then head to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, which just opened a wonderful Japanese Garden. I would then head back into town for one of the amazing hamburgers (remember, I had a vegan breakfast!) at Stella’s Lounge in the warehouse district, then stroll over to the Grand Rapids Art Museum to enjoy one of their Sunday classical concerts and a guided art tour, which follows after the last notes are played. I would want to check out some other museums in the area, such as the Grand Rapids Public Museum (history and science) and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum. At the end of the day, I’d head to the Downtown Market and either grab dinner there—my favorites include El Cuñado’s tacos and Slo’s BBQ—or plan a quiet dinner at home: pick up some great wine and appetizers at Aperitivo, fish from the Fish Lads or steaks from Montello’s Meat Market, and something indulgent from Sweetie-licious Bakery Café. What a weekend!

7. How many of these other "Grand" places have you visited: Grand Central Station, the Grand Canyon, the Grand Ol’ Opry, the MGM Grand, Grand Teton National Park, Grand Cayman Islands?
Hmmm… While I have traveled a lot, the only Grand place mentioned above has been Grand Central Station; a dramatic building inside and out, above and below ground, and a wonderful place to begin or end any adventure within the New York Area. Beyond that, I’ve been to Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, and Grand Street in Soho, and closer to home, the wonderful Lake Michigan lakeshore town of Grand Haven.

8. Place you’ve never been but need to visit?
Angkor Wat Temples—since I saw photographs when I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to go there and explore this amazing city within the jungle.

9. Place you’ve already been and need to return?
One of the most magical experiences was two weeks in Argentina and Antarctica to celebrate my partner’s 50th birthday (photo above). We started in Buenos Aires, and then headed to Iguazu Falls and the rainforest. We flew to the southernmost city of Ushuaia for few nights in that fine port town and then boarded our vessel for an expedition to the tip of Antarctica. The scenery was spectacular: icebergs, glaciers, mountains, and water, water, everywhere, of every hue of blue imaginable! Lots of wildlife, too: penguins, whales, and seals. Upon our return, we spent four days in a remote lodge in Patagonia with lots of great hikes.

10. Where will you go on your next adventure?
I love to juxtapose different types of experiences, and my next trip has it all: varied climates and landscapes, diverse accommodations, city/country, quiet/loud, busy/lazy, expensive/cheap. For our next trip, we’ll depart Grand Rapids with friends from ArtPrize and fly to Los Angeles for a night, then rent an RV and drive past Reno to attend Burning Man. We will head back to L.A. through Palm Springs, drop off the vehicle and fly to New York for some Grand Rapids Art Museum business, and attend part of Fashion Week. Crazy, huh?

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