The words of first round eliminated Work of Art contestant Amanda Williams, live on, unspoken. “It’s good for the public” she told Bravo cameras of her Jaime Lynn Henderson portrait, a concept so ill-defined, yet so pervasive within the show, Bravo often confuses even its basic premises for a challenge. Take this week’s design a book cover assignment: Is this a fine art challenge or applied arts? Bravo tells us it’s fine art, showing TV audiences pictures of Damian Hirst’s skull paintings on the cover of books, failing to mention that none of the artist examples had anything to do with the design. The work they were making just happened to suit the cover.
Either confusion over what constitutes fine art or an inability to secure suitable product partners for prizes brings Penguin into the mix, a book publisher known amongst other things for its runs of public domain classics. Artists were asked to make covers for a few of these better known books. A better match for the fine art challenge would have asked New York based artist book publisher Printed Matter to participate, but they likely lack in the capital and public profile needed for a Bravo production. Still, I’m a little surprised Taschen or Phaiden didn’t have a suitable publishing project for a partnership.
Upon receiving their assignment the artists set to work. Abdi Farah deludedly tells audiences that he and Miles have the same book and are finally competing against one another, (I don’t think they are working anywhere near the same level) and Judith Braun makes it very clear she’s an artist not a book cover designer. When mentor Simon de Pury tells the studio this is a mark of prestige every artist should want, Braun rolls her eyes.
This level of critique is necessary in a good show, so I was disappointed to see Braun work with such disinterest even if I understood the problems an artist would and should have with the process. Other artists were able to get behind the project and faired better as a result; Erik Johnson Alice in Wonderland cover was undoubtedly the best work he’d produced even if his rendering skills need improvement.
Still, the results of this challenge were largely lacking. Most of the artists hadn’t read their assigned book, and only one took the time to do so. Props to Miles Mendenhall for that, though let’s remember that this was possible with the type of book and length he was working with. It’s a quick short read. (Competitor Ryan Shultz disagrees.) Looker Jaclyn Santos claimed she’d never even heard of Jane Austen, but due to the nature of that book, unlike Mendenhall, she wouldn’t have had the time to run through it even if she wanted.
As I noted last week, the judging remains a weak point in the show, even if their conclusions were a little more on target this episode. I’ll go over the results in blurb form for the sake of efficiency:
John Parot’s H.G. Wells Time Machine cover was the clear winner and amongst only a couple strong works. His abstract Chris Johanson-inspired geometric blob time machine maintained enough mystery that you’d want to open the book to find out what’s it’s about. It deserved the win.
THE RUNNER UP
I get why Mark Valesquez commercial-friendly blood-dripping Dracula cover was runner up, but I still don’t like it. Nao Bustamante‘s self portrait for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Bustamante’s was a far stronger work of art even if it’s a little too self-referential-verging-on-narcisism-arty for mass audiences. Still, if Bravo’s framing a contest as though it’s about fine art, it should at least take the time to identify it.
THE BOTTOM TWO OF THREE
Thanks but no thanks to the Penguin representative who told audiences that Peregrine Honig‘s Time Machine cover should be burned. The cute painting bore little relationship to the book, but no artist needs to be told so in such harsh terms. Jaclyn Santos’ piece paid no attention to the Book’s title and author, which was ultimately her undoing. She managed to spell Jane Austen’s name wrong, and spent a good deal of time crying in the back room while the judges deliberated. Amongst a myriad of other problems, her open investment in the show’s promise to give her an art career, delegitimizes her actual practice.
JUDITH GOES HOME
I’ve spent the last three episodes watching Work of Art at Judith Braun’s viewing parties, so feel free to call me on my lack of objectivity when I write that Braun deserved to go home. She wasn’t interested in making a book cover and she barely produced one. Every reality show needs a talented “call em like they em” cast member, but ultimately contestants who don’t want to play should be eliminated before those less skilled participants who do. These are the rules of any game.
Still, the rationale presented for her elimination was not always consistent with the laid out challenge. If the first example image Bravo presents to competitors is Damian Hirst image showcased on the cover of a book produced independent of the work, Braun shouldn’t have been penalized for attempting the same. This was not the case, as critic Jerry Saltz complained Braun had “fallen back on gestures that were familiar”, even though as a criteria for publishing, the artist’s trade mark style would be essential.
At her studio last night, Braun explained that she found a New York Times review shortly there after about Austen, who enjoyed writing letters spelled backwards to her eight year old niece. Jokingly Braun wrote a letter to the producers and judges explaining that in light of this new information her work should be re-evaluated as the winner. Hers is a funny anecdote to her elimination, but I’ll add that she’d only be right if the book was a reprinting of Austen’s letters, not Pride and Prejudice.