GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD)— September 2009 brought a new culture of competition to Grand Rapids, and Ran Ortner’s jewel of aquatic art was at the center of it.
“Open Water No. 24” was the winner of the inaugural ArtPrize; the three-panel oil painting of waves captured every fine detail, as well as the most public votes.
According to the ArtPrize website, winning the competition changed Ortner’s life.
On October 7, Ortner was an artist who couldn’t pay his phone bill. On October 8, Ortner was in every major newspaper in the world. He had the world’s largest art prize under his belt, had sold two additional paintings, and earned three more commissions,” the site reads.
The original intent of ArtPrize was to have the winning piece remain in Grand Rapids, but that almost didn’t happen during the competition’s inaugural year.
Because ArtPrize was originally designated as a charitable organization with the IRS, under federal law it could not offer a prize with strings attached.
Organizers discovered the problem right before the top 10 entries were announced.
Some artists chose to donate their works, but Ortner’s went to an unnamed buyer in January 2010.
“Open Water No. 24” eventually found its way back to Grand Rapids; it is now on display at Reserve Wine & Food, which is partially owned by the parents of ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos.
As for Ortner, his depictions of waves continue to earn him international attention.
According to his website, his work “Element No. 5” was the visual centerpiece for the United Nations’ World Water Day. The piece was commissioned by the Dutch government in 2013.
Two other pieces by Ortner- “Element No. 1” and “Element No. 2” are currently on display in the lobby of the 7 World Trade Center skyscraper in Manhattan.
He’s also the focus of a documentary film and book, both of which are works in progress.