Ryan Shultz puts his hands on his head in frustration.
Whatever chance Bravo’s Work of Art had to make the public better versed in art circled the bowl last night in “The Shape of Things To Come”. That education largely hangs on the judges and Bravo’s editing of the show, and neither did much to illuminate what was and wasn’t good. The problems stemmed from the show’s choice of top and bottom six contestants this week, which past being incorrect, offered very little sensible rationale for the decisions being made.
Mixed media refuse virtuoso Jon Kessler was this week’s guest host – not my favorite artist in the world, but at least a credible one. Contestants were asked to rummage through a junk heap and come up with a work of art from the materials they found.
During the trip, young Miles Mendenhall complained he wasn’t sleeping well, and that his OCD did not like junk, so he took a nap on the cement floor of the dump. Admittedly this act has limited “oh-how-unique” charm to it (offset by whineyness), but it’s also hard not to see this as being a short term personality-building strategy to ensure Bravo doesn’t eliminate him. His work also didn’t suck this round, which helped. Needless to say he more than survived the cut, winning the competition and earning immunity in the next challenge.
Jaclyn Santos, Transmit, 2010, mixed media
Back at the Bravo workroom, (one of the few studios you’ll ever see with no walls) the artists set to work. Almost all the female contestants make work in heels and fluffy tops, an odd affectation even Project Runway didn’t take on. The men ogle and make “cocking” jokes at sex-pot Jaclyn Santos who spends most of her time in this episode living up to AFC’s Michelle Halabura’s assessment that she “embodies the female bimbo stereotype her art is supposed to be fighting.” She gets glue in her hair and freaks out, when she can’t figure out how to build her aquarium, she plays the victim to solicit advice, and as almost anyone could have been predicted her work is beyond stupid. A former Jeff Koons assistant, Santos made a poor imitation of his aquarium work by building a unit she will fill with water and sink a TV. The aquarium leaked so she put her TV in a bag of water.
No offense to Ms. Santos, but this piece of crap is amongst the worst work to spin out of Bravo’s studios, which frankly is saying a lot. And yet Ms. Santos mysteriously not only remains on the show, but did not even rank in the bottom three. With decisions like this being made, it’s hard to not think someone decided the value of a cock joke factored into the rationale for keeping her in the competition.
Trong Nguyen, What would Tom Friedman Do?, Mixed media, 2009
Of course, maybe it made the judges “feel” something, a non-existent standard of art evaluation Bravo’s pedaling through China Chow each week. You know a contestant’s doomed whenever those ridiculous words are uttered, Trong Nguyen being the latest causality. Nguyen’s constellation of painted televisions with text wasn’t particularly strong, the scrawl “I hate reality tv” so overstated it rendered the rest of his phrases mute, but it didn’t deserve elimination. It didn’t help that critic Jerry Saltz took issue with the text “Up Next…WWTFD”, an acronym for “What would Tom Friedman do”. Saltz went so far as to ask him who the artist was, his point being that the work wasn’t made for a general audience (or to his taste).
Editing would have audiences believe the critic wasn’t aware of Friedman’s work, another Bravo misstep as all opportunities to talk about homage, quotation and reference in art were totally missed. Notably, this was not the case in Project Runway, where judges regularly noted influence and reference. They also complained if designers made work too obviously influenced by better known designers. Season One’s Missoni inspired swimsuit causing Alexandra Vidal’s elimination provides a worthy example.
Abdi Farah, Tube, 2009, Mixed media
Unfortunately Nguyen’s work wasn’t my favorite either, but at least it said something, which is far more than can be said of much of the other work. I’m guessing the fact that he created a work intending to poke holes in the show’s promise to find great talent did more to damage the work than the concept itself. Speaking of these large promises, I have to wonder if it’s a coincidence that Abdi Farah, an artist who has expressed his deep belief in the show’s promise to launch his career, has made it into the top three two weeks in a row, despite having made nothing good. As I tweeted last night, “Why isn’t the message of this show “No TV’s for heads!”
Possibly though, only the judges come to the conclusions we see on the show, which if true, gives me great pause for the level of discussion that has to be occurring. For the sake of thoroughness, here’s a brief run down of the results I think more accurately reflect the work.
ARTISTS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN IN THE TOP THREE
Peregrine Honig, A Conversation Between a Widow and Herself, 2009, Mixed media
Cudos to Honig for making her televisions work and creating a piece that’s understated and intimate. To my mind this is the winning piece.
John Parot, New Stock, 2009, Mixed media
I’m not sure there’s any great meaning to this piece, but it’s pretty funny. I like that Parot went so far as to create aesthetized caution signs for his repackaged garbage.
ON MILES MENDENHALL
Miles Mendenhall, Worst place, 2010, mixed media
Contrary to the judges opinion on this, Miles Mendenhall would have done much better in my books if he’d stayed off his bed of nails fiberglass. It’s a well executed project, but who needs to see another person sleeping in a gallery? We just saw this at Younger Than Jesus thanks to Chu Yun and I didn’t like that execution either.
ARTISTS THAT SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN IN THE BOTTOM THREE
Jaime Lynn Henderson, Death of the Family Appliances, 2010, Mixed media
Trong Nguyen, Jaime Lynn Henderson, and Judith Braun. I’ll add to this, that while Henderson’s piece was a little too interior design-y, I thought her decision to paint the lamp with the colors of the painting, and create a spot on the floor that the vacuum cleaner could have run through was well done. If she hadn’t overdone the piece I doubt she’d have any trouble at all.
ARTISTS THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN THE BOTTOM THREE
Jaclyn Santos, Transmit, 2010, mixed media
Erik Johnson, Untitled, 2010.
What is this? It’s a parody of itself.
Ryan Shultz, Zebra Vacuum Spiral, 2010, mixed media
The formless pile of junk. Talk about a work of art that “doesn’t work”. Also, any reference to John Chamberlain is misguided in my books. Fail.