ArtPrize….can it be the Nobel of the cultural and scientific? the Pulitzer and the Peabody of journalism? the Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy of entertainment?
I asked that question of the first grand winner of ArtPrtize, Ran Ortner, a New York artist. I talked to him by phone the first day ArtPrize 2010 began last week and again tonight. He said, “Time” and subsequent winning art pieces will determine the “value and importance” of the prize. Ortner’s “Open Water No. 24″ won the world’s largest art prize last year. He told me, “Artprize will be judged over time. Is it sustainable? Does it make wise and significant decisions?” Ortner went on to predict, “ArtPrize will touch upon really great art. It has the potential to be astonishingly successful. It doesn’t have to knock it out of the park every year to be successful. Look at the Yankees.”
I asked Ortner, if ArtPrize doesn’t choose well in the future will that hurt him personally and professionally? He responded, “My work will stand squarely on it own merits.”
ArtPrize, since its inception in Grand Rapids a year ago, has been criticized, scrutinized, debated as to whether it really knows and can judge good art. The art world elite have little confidence in the vote of a public that is deemed unsophisticated and uneducated in the study of art. But Ran Ortner who has spent thirty years as a struggling artist says, “ArtPrize was never intended or framed to be other than a vote of the people.” He says, “The fear of the artworld elite is that an ArtPrize populist vote can be likened to a culinary contest where children pick ice cream and cake.” He added, “Children aren’t voting. I essentially do not agree with that fear. I do agree it’s the fear of many in the art world.”
The inaugural ArtPrize winner then made a bold statement about public opinion: “I actually have a tremendous amount of faith in group think. Our government is founded on it, our ideal of who we are and our capacity to be, is all based on collective wisdom. It doesn’t mean collectivity is always right. But who of us would think the voice of the people would not be insightful, impactful, and decisive? We’ve based our most dear values as a collective. It’s called democracy.”
Ortner contends there are no guarantees granted by any judge. “People can vote by knee jerk reaction, pandering,” he claims. “But elitist can have a bias based on their education, their agenda, their perspective that can also be a knee jerk reaction.”
So what does an artist want from ArtPrize besides the exposure and the thousands of dollars in the winning purse? Ran Ortner describes it like this: “We’re hoping people vote beyond their eyes, with their heart–to see with the fullness of who they are. Every voter has a responsibility to be true to self, not cavalier. Slow down, consider, think deeply, be open to register the art within your internal wisdom. ”
“Great art, ” Ortner feels, “lives in our memory. Memory is the test of great art. When you step away from a work, if it’s not remembered, it if doesn’t register, if it doesn’t live in you and continue to inform you, it’s not great art.”
So what did ArtPrize do for Ran Ortner? “It changed my life dramatically. It offered an unconventional means for me to find traction. Winning the top prize through a vote of the people was a touching and humbling experience. It’s been like night and day, it’s like stepping through a door. I was reaching for recognition and acceptance of the artworld elite. I moved to New York to be where the elite critics and scholars and galleries are and I still aspire to attain the highest level of honors and awards from them like an Olympic athlete. ArtPrize freed me up to put more energy into my work instead of spending time cobbling my finances together. I’ve gone from barely making it to having an abundance, a generous flow of revenue. I’m invited to exhibit in shows, commissioned to create art…I’m selling my art at three times what I charged before ArtPrize.
Would he enter ArtPrize again? “I don’t forsee a circumstance where it makes sense. The dream has happened. The highest ideal of what ArtPrize can do is provide an amazing opportunity. It launched me. And I love the notion that it can do that for other artists. Perhaps, in ten years, for an anniversary show, ArtPrize will invite winners back to exhibit a collection of new work.”
Ran Ortner confided, “I’m making my way. I’m growing. I’m seeking success. The artworld works slowly. One’s reputation is at stake. With ArtPrize, there is no waiting for someone to be deemed great. ArtPrize circumvents that. ArtPrize and I hang in the same balance.” They’re both continuing to be judged by the people and the art world.