What’s Work of Art’s biggest failure so far? This show has so many problems there’s undoubtedly more than one right answer but last week’s challenge and resulting eliminations left me feeling like it was their ridiculous assignments. Nothing’s going to top the shock and awe challenge in the bad idea department, but this week’s Let-New-York-be-Your-Muse-With-Audi didn’t do much to convince me that assessment was inaccurate. That is, until the results started to roll in. Kudos to this episode’s guest judge, realist painter Richard Phillips for offering a much needed increase to the level of discourse, but not even he’s been able to put a crack in editing that makes Abdi Farah look like a voice of authority and Erik Johnson a wise man toughened by life.
Like Mile’s jab at Judith’s so-called sanity issues last week — a completely constructed narrative legitimizing her exit — the editors go out of their way to remind us they made the right decision. “There’s no room for error any more” Abdi earnestly tells the cameras now that five artists have been eliminated. I’ve heard this sentiment uttered by cast members on almost every other reality show, so if it weren’t for Abdi’s genuine belief in the show, I’d call this a planted line. He follows this sentiment with, “The more open the challenge the harder it is to come up with a good idea.” thus foreshadowing what I’m certain will be a poor solo exhibition should he be chosen as one of the final three contestants. Younger artists like Abdi seem to do better on this show, perhaps because school makes them more accustomed to following instructions.
As for the studio, with more artists eliminated, the show has time to follow a few more character narratives and disputes. Miles and Nicole flirt, Erik offers surprisingly fair character assessments while talking smack about other contestants (last week’s homophobic comments do not sit well with us), and Nicole, Jaclyn and Peregrine deal with sharing a new room together. Nobody has yet commented on Mark Velasquez predilection for making painfully obvious observations. “Either way, the group will be eight” opines Velasquez, as if inevitability of elimination weren’t already known. He’s also good for the off-handed criticism, “That’s amateurish”, a comment I’m not sure he even understands as he used it last week to describe Nicole’s baby penis-like thumbs.
In other delusional statements offered up this week, a studio scene showcases Jaclyn talking about her art school 101 project “the male gaze plus me in the Audi forum = the Panopticon” followed by Abdi’s ridiculous conclusion, “Jackie’s a great artist”. That Jaclyn remains on the show at all, signals the show’s utter disinterest in accurately assessing the cast member’s work.
SPOILER ALERT: So does the fact that she won this week’s challenge. “I think there’s some growth in your work” says Bravo judge Jerry Saltz generously, a sentiment that may have some truth in this instance, but seems a little less credible, when you remember that said “growth” has occurred over approximately six days on Bravo’s sets. Once again, when this show isn’t failing artists with its uninspired challenges, it does so in its assessment of the work. Speaking to this, the first person that needs to be eliminated on this show is China Chow. (kudos to c-monster for calling that one right off the bat) “This is just way too literal. I don’t get what you’re trying to say here.” she says of Ryan Shultz’s self portrait in a car. What she meant was that it was a painting with only a surface read, but she’s not the most brilliant speaker in the world so she produced a statement in which one clause contradicts the other. Not that we needed any further proof of the matter, but only a couple contestants later she demonstrates she’s also not a particularly deep thinker. “I don’t know what I’m looking at.” Chow complains of Jaime Lynn’s work, “Is it a hub cap, is it a record, it’s kind of all over the place.” That piece had a lot of problems, namely sloppy conceit and visualization, but not being able to identify what it was, isn’t one of them.
Thankfully, I doubt China Chow has too much sway in the actual judging, which sadly seems more heavily weighted in the hands of the producers than other shows. As per usual this episode’s list of winners and losers demonstrates this point. A few thoughts below.
Why is Jaclyn Santos work in the top two? She photographed men looking at her, put paint blobs on their faces “as means of empowerment”, and added a couple mirrors to reflect the viewer’s gaze. This is art school male gaze 101. No matter. “I love the triangle you’ve created, where the viewer, they’re looking out at us, and you are the one who has to complete the pictures.” says Jeanne Greenberg Rohtayn. This doesn’t even make any sense.
THE REAL WINNER
How is it no substantial conversation occurred about Nicole’s sculpture “suspension”, a light crusty object marked by the sounds of her journey. This piece is much better than most of the work I’ve seen on her website, much of which apparently was made in school. Nadeau’s been creating relatively strong work for this competition — it’s time to start talking about her a little more.
THE RUNNERS UP
Miles Mendenhall and Peregrine Honig each created thoughful pieces. Admittedly I have a difficult time with Honig’s illustration-y style, but at least all her work is intelligent, which is more than I can say for a lot of the remaining contestants.
THE ELIMINATED – JAIME LYNN HENDERSON
Fare enough. I suppose ten dancing Jaime Lynn’s on a wheel of New York is worse than Abdi’s hamy self portrait as a race car driver, but just barely. Jeanne Greenberg Rohtayn offers up the most valuable criticism of the piece saying, “It has no sex, it has no speed, and it has no status, all things you would get from the car or the rap music [you were listening to].”
BEST ARTICULATED CRITICISM
“It’s important to make a declarative statement.” Richard Phillips tells artist Mark Velasquez who’s painting had earlier been described as boring hotel art. There’s probably room for debate on this point, but in this context, I’d argue this is a far better starting point for the evaluation of contemporary art than Bravo’s search for how it makes you “feel”.