Entry on Shortlist almost didn’t make ArtPrize Eight

"les bêtes" by Isaac Aoki displayed at the Old City Water Building

ArtPrize Eight, Les Betes, Isaac Aoki
"les bêtes" by Isaac Aoki, displayed at the Old City Water Building by the Richard App Gallery on Monroe Avenue NW. (Sept. 27, 2016)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — One striking piece on the Jurors’ Shortlist was almost left out of ArtPrize Eight because the artist couldn’t find a venue.

The piece, “les bêtes” by Isaac Aoki, is a series of eight photos showing nude models wearing animal masks.

Multiple venues denied the entry. It wasn’t until the day before the closing period that it was accepted by the Old City Water Building by the Richard App Gallery on Monroe Avenue NW.

“People were very uncomfortable with the nudity,” Aoki said of the work. “Somebody said, ‘Oh, this is some Kanye West bull****,’ which cracked me up. But that’s good. It should start a conversation. That’s what it’s supposed to do.”

The 24-year-old is a professional ballet dancer with the Grand Rapids Ballet and self-described amateur photographer. This his first time competing in ArtPrize.

“I was really inspired by the pallet of Michigan winter,” he said.

The photos in his piece were taken in January, February and March along the lakeshore in Saugatuck.

“I’ve wanted to do nudes for a while now and I had friends that were willing to freeze, laugh,” Aoki said. “A lot of people just comment on how they’re think they’re really beautiful. And other people are like, ‘I don’t get it,’ or ‘What’s with all the boobs?’ and ‘Why are they naked in winter?'”

He is now eligible for the $12,500 juried category award and the $200,000 juried grand prize. He said he hasn’t had time to think about what he would do with the prize money if he wins.

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