Nathan Coley, There Will Be No Miracles Here, 2006, Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute
What will Bravo's new reality show The Untitled Art Project look like? Not even the actress Sarah Jessica Parker's Pretty Matches Productions and the Emmy-nominated Magical Elves know all the details yet, but the basics have been released. Thirteen aspiring artists will compete for a gallery exhibition, cash prize and a national tour. I spoke to the Director of Casting for Magical Elves Nick Gilhool yesterday in an attempt to get a better sense of who they're looking to cast in the show. Sadly, no decisions about who would judge the competitions or information about specific marketing partnerships with galleries and museums were released. We did, however, discuss the goals of the production (most of which seem to lie in putting together a competition with integrity), and the characteristics he typically looks for when casting shows. Those finding the 22-page application form available on their website a little daunting may find this conversation a good primer.
Art Fag City: Can you talk about the criteria that will be used to evaluate the artists?
Nick Gilhool: Sure. One reason Project Runway was really successful was that the first contact people had with the production was an assessment of their design talent. That's what we're doing here. The first contact people will have is these open calls vetted by people who know better than we do what it is to be talented as an artist. There's going to be art professionals and art luminaries who are acting as consultants and giving us a sense of who would be exciting to watch from the art world perspective. This is going to be a very exciting show, especially if it is something that people from the art world would love to tune in to see and be impressed by. So there has to be a backbone of legitimacy to the work and to what people are seeing. And then the rest of the audience kind of gets that sense too. [Interview continues after the jump]
AFC: Speaking to this, what is the national tour mentioned in the Bravo press release? I don't understand what this will be.
NG: I can't talk about that. That will be further defined as we have those details in place. But we want to make sure that there are elements of this that will make this a meaningful process for the artist who are part of the cast. So there's something that they will get out of it that will nurture and further their career.
AFC: Many artists have expressed worry to me over the last 24 hours that the show may perpetuate negative stereotypes about the field. What is your response to these concerns?
NG: I can just tell you what I'm responsible for, which is finding people who are exciting talent. One of the things about these competition shows is that a lot of it is about the journey the artist or the subject takes in front of the audience's eyes. So we're looking for people who are really accomplished, or on the verge of being accomplished and that people would relate to whether they're in the art world or not. I'm not sure that relates exactly to stereotypes of artists, but we'll just have to see.
AFC: For much of the mainstream audience this show is likely to be their first introduction to the world of contemporary art. Is that something that's a concern for your job or are you strictly looking for art world talent, whatever that may be.
NG: I think the nugget of your question is that we take into account the sense of fun that has to go into the fact that this is a television program, so how people talk about their process, what they're working on, what they have worked on. Part of my job is to see how someone communicates and whether it's through their work or through their words when they're being interviewed on the show.
AFC: So would you say in this case, it's definitely beneficial if you're the kind of artist who can speak articulately about the kind of work that you make?
NG: It's weird — that's why I say communicate about it because it's not necessarily how the sentence construction you put together and whether you're really articulate. It is about whether you have a really strong perspective and if you communicate what that perspective is — that could be through their work, or through their words, or through interactions with other people. And I think a lot of artists have a strong take on the world and they want to express it. So I'm excited about meeting these people.
AFC: On the flip side one could be critical of the singular perspective that that brings.
NG: You mean, like pigeonholing the whole industry through one individual?
AFC: That's one way of looking at it. You know, it's great to have a strong perspective, and that's the kind of thing that often leads to great art making. But what one might be critical of is that that strong perspective might also be monotone—a single note or a one liner.
NG: Right. Where these shows typically start off is a group of people and as you whittle down the audience gets to know the individuals better ”¦ and what their perspective is. And so there is a multiplicity of voices in the beginning that gives you a sense of the community. I think audiences, and especially the kind of audiences that watch Bravo, are pretty sophisticated when it comes to what they take away about a given setting. There's a complexity to the art world, that there may not be to the fashion industry in certain ways — just from a casting perspective. This is just the first season. I don't know everything about the art world, I'm just sort of a student of it at this point, so I'm really looking to see what there is out there.
AFC: Is there anything particularly important about the casting process you'd like to convey to people? Obviously, I'm not there for it, so I don't know the ins and outs of what your job is about and how that really shapes the show.
NG: Yeah, I think what I'd love to get out there is that our range of what we think would work for this is really wide open and it could be anywhere from artists who are just beginning their career to artists that are kind of emerging and semi-established.
AFC: So for example, could mid-career artists apply and not think they would be rejected?
NG: Yeah. I mean, especially early on in the first season — this needs to mean something to the people who are involved ”¦ In terms of what we're hoping to see, it's just sort of like we'll know it when we see it and we're really excited to meet lots of people so nobody should assume we want one thing or another. We want a really interesting cross section of people in the art world who are engaging in their own expression to figure out how to make their way in it.
AFC: And is the casting call fine art specific — in other words, how interested are you in people who are cross-overs — Rev. Jen for example crosses a lot of different disciplines?
NG: Yeah, that's something we'd be very interested in. There's insider and outsider art and people going to art school or not ”¦ but we're geared towards the fine art world that you might see in a more traditional gallery, which ranges a lot. But that's the scope that we're thinking.
AFC: Anything else people should know?
NG: Casting calls might take a long time depending on how many people show up. Put your best foot forward because there might be some good people there to impress. And we would like them to be impressed so we can have a really top-notch group of people.
AFC: And how much filming will take place in New York?
NG: Is that something we can answer? [Nick asks Bravo's publicist] No.