Work of Art: Next Great Artist
Episode 2: The Shape of Things to Come
THE FOLLOWING PROGRAM MAY
CONTAIN MATERIAL THAT IS
UNSUITABLE FOR YOUNG VIEWERS.
PARENTAL DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
That was the disclaimer that aired before the 2nd ever episode of Bravo’s Work of Art!! If we could only get a warning like that on high school art classes we’d finally have a country worth a damn!!!!
Of course, the promised outrage slipped timidly by. Week one winner Miles made giant concrete assholes. Big whoop. But the notice raises serious questions about what will be allowed to air and how compatible the genres of art and television actually are.
In a nod to its own place within this space of art and television, the week two challenge had the artists assemble sculptures from an appliance graveyard littered with televisions. There were plenty of other electronics- audio components, computer guts and the like, but television was king. A television show about art, asking its competitors to make art out of televisions can go one of two ways: super-cute (Peregrine Hoing), or, blaringly coy (Trong Nguyen).
The “Special Guest Judge” was artist John Kessler (Mixed Media Sculptor). Kessler is the perfect kind of upper-mid level artist that this show was meant to highlight. While the weekly challenges expose the public to a pressurized version of improvisational art making, the “Guest Judges” stand in front of a body of work, a lifetime of effort and accomplishment. To borrow again from Top Chef, if you might want to go to a contestant’s restaurant, you’d definitely want to go to the judge’s. The stars are the guests, the experts, the masters. They are what the contestants aspire to become, and Kessler is an admirable choice especially given the challenge’s electronic/assemblage objective.
After the art has been made and exhibited only six of the thirteen artists are asked to remain in the gallery for crit. They are invited to do so with the ambiguous line “We’d like to hear more about your piece.” Nothing quite parallels the exacting unease as being asked to explain oneself. At that moment your fate rests on your tongue; you, and everyone staring at you is acutely keen to this. Upon the outset of crit we are unaware of which 3 artists were selected for praise, and which 3 are to take a drubbing. Once the tongues get flapping the designations are soberingly clear.
For a second straight week both Abdi and Miles made it into the top three, along with Nicole (the first woman to do so). Abdi and Miles seem to have a plot brewing. They are the two youngest contestants and in addition to their technical prowess both share good looks, dynamism, and natural artistic skill. Abdi created a well (enough) articulated humanoid figured with a television for a head. Ignoring, or at least obfuscating the challenge’s parameters, Miles created a sculptural installation of a bedroom set. Consisting of a motherboard patterned mattress, spray painted red headboard (of sorts) and the aforesaid puckered anus side tables, Miles’ work came to life as he went to sleep. As the exhibition opened, Miles crawled up in a little ball and slept on the bed. This act of performance sent the room into a twitter and gave Miles back to back wins in the season’s first two shows. Miles’ scattered, fractured, creative soul seems to snap back into razor-sharp intellectualism at the drop of a hat. Right now I find it hard to think of a more rewarding showdown than a Miles v Abdi finale. Pitting Abdi’s stylized, Populist, figuration against Miles’ well-made conceptualism would be a fitting debate for the public forum.
Putting the criticism in crit were Judith, Jamie Lynn, and Trong. Judith divorced meaning from material in an overly-compositional, diorama-like tabletop design. Jamie Lynn created her own interior tableau that particularly irked Jerry Saltz. When Jamie Lynn explained her thought process J Diddy dismissively quipped, “Oh, that’s what it is.” He went on to abolish her whole endeavor with the vicious “I actually think you’re not making art here.” Good shit J Diddy, keep it comin’. Trong opted for a literal brand of conceptualism in which he painted four televisions white, and painted text on their screens. The result was amateurish highbrow. It did not elevate the components past their objecthood, and the savvy art panel saw right through it. In our first confirmed case of bus-throwing, Miles was so unimpressed as to volunteer his own interpretation of Trong’s piece during crit saying it was “distractingly boring”. And that’s from a guy whose own art puts him to sleep! But Trong’s death knell came from five little letters: WWTFD. Painted on the largest of the televisions, WWTFD, stood for “What Would Thomas Friedman Do”. As Trong went on to explain, Thomas Friedman is a conceptually based sculptor who often employs everyday objects in constructing his work. When faced with the prospect of transmuting everyday objects himself, Trong could only come up with a hollow art joke. Nao squeaked off the chopping block last week, but kicked off in episode two, the mighty Trong has fallen.
With the dismissal of Trong comes a strong message to the thoroughly art-indoctrinated viewer- its not that kinda show. While insider-isms run rampant through the art world, this is the tv world. If we are to broaden our horizons, seek new connections with an audience beyond Chelsea, Miami, Basel, we must stop making jokes that only graduate students half-giggle at. It is references like WWTFD that make people outside of this niche culture view it as hoity and often downright insulting. Galleries and museums sometimes now serve as a venue for insulting, assaulting; television almost never does, and Bravo’s gonna keep it that way.
Simon de Pury’s awkwardly-casual Hogan’s Heroes-like salute when leaving a room.
Prince Lumber being the hardware store of choice over big-box artistic stalwarts Home Depot, Lowes, and Ace.
During Judith’s rambling on about her work’s supposed meaning, Jerry Saltz signals for a timeout. Mercifully, Judith complies.
# of Koons references, 1.