After beating out nine other finalists to win the ArtPrize event in Grand Rapids, Ran Ortner of Brooklyn, N.Y., said that for the first time in his adult life, he will be able to worry less about paying his rent and concentrate more on creating his art.
"To be able to use their resources and my energy strictly to pursue my work and not to struggle financially is a liberty that's really exquisite," said Ortner, 50.
His entry, "Open Water No. 24," is a 19-foot-wide oil painting on canvas depicting the swelling surface of an ocean. The painting is so realistic that skeptical viewers often get within inches of it to check for brushstrokes.
Ortner had the only painting among the finalists, who competed for a total of $449,000 in prize money.
A total of $449,000 in prize money was at stake. Tracy Van Duinen, an artist from Chicago, placed second and won $100,000; Eric Daigh, an artist from Traverse City, Mich., won $50,000 for third. The remaining seven finalists each received $7,000.
The event featured works by 1,262 artists from 41 states and 15 foreign countries. For more than two weeks, entries have filled lobbies, streets and even the Grand River that flows through downtown.
Works will remain on display through Saturday.
The winners were chosen "American Idol" style by the voting public and their works are displayed throughout downtown Grand Rapids. Voters made their picks through the ArtPrize Web site or by sending text messages from cell phones.
Van Duinen, 43, whose entry, "Imagine That!" is a colorful mural made from tiles and created on the outside of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, said he was thrilled and surprised after being chosen as a finalist and felt more of the same after finishing second.
"I feel great," he said. "This kept on exceeding our expectations every step of the way."
In addition to donating the mural to the museum, Van Duinen said he also planned to give 5 percent of his prize to a local charity, then use the rest to pay bills.
Daigh, 31, placed third for his series of portraits created with pushpins.
ArtPrize has been such a hit with artists and the public alike that plans are being made for it to return next year and perhaps become an annual event.
The competition started Sept. 23, although the installation of some works started several weeks before that.
Although the method of choosing the winners has come under criticism from some art purists, Rick DeVos, the driving force behind ArtPrize, has said the competition wouldn't have generated such interest had a panel of art experts selected the winners.
DeVos, 27, said ArtPrize was created to get people talking about art. He originally hoped that about 300 artists would enter the competition.
After the winners were announced, he said some changes could be coming next year but declined to elaborate.
DeVos established Spout.com, a social-networking site for film buffs. His grandfather, Rich, co-founded direct-sales giant Amway Corp., and his father, Dick, is a former president of the company who ran unsuccessfully for governor on the Republican ticket in 2006.
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