GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In 2009, Ran Ortner's "Open Water No. 24," captivated West Michigan during the first ArtPrize. He won and walked away with a quarter of a million dollars. It changed his life.
A lot of the credit has to go to one of Ortner's friends, who entered him in the world's largest art competition. No one knew anything about it at the time.
"She called me (to say) that she entered me into this competition and she's telling me about it. I'm like, that's an internet scam. This is not real," Ortner recalled Tuesday.
The Brooklyn, New York, artist was 50 at the time, and he was struggling.
"I'd been working 30 years as an artist in isolation. I struggled the entire time financially," he said.
The prize money washed away a lot of anxiety, going to pay for housing and a studio for him to work in.
And after winning, he had people's attention. He has since been commissioned for several jobs, including creating art for the United Nations.
"Open Water" now hangs above the bar at Reserve Wine & Food on Monroe Avenue in Grand Rapids.
"I always fancied the work being intoxicating, so the fact that it's around intoxicated people, I think it's perfect," Ortner said with a laugh.
He said he's looking for authenticity, not something just created for a win.
"When you see someone keeping it real, you're like, 'Ah, that's the thing.' So that's what I'll be looking for," he said. "When art really begins to be that extraordinary thing, it's because it becomes something very specifically personal. I love Shakespeare's notion, 'to our own selves be true.'"