I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d be much happier if Work of Art were a PBS style reality show a la Frontier House with a series of art historians and critics discussing the realities of art world as we watch the struggling members of the art world. I like drama as much as the next person, but I found Bravo’s focus on artistic disputes at the expense the art particularly disheartening in this week’s public art challenge. Too many of its participants will be left scarred by this show.
Wearer of fine furs, Yvonne Force Villareal, was the guest judge this week, though her position as President and Co-Founder of the Art Production Fund didn’t do much to illuminate the field. Aside from showing and introducing her own work she said virtually nothing during the show. Please bring Richard Phillips back.
Once the challenge was introduced, the artists were split into two teams and audiences waited to see who Erik wouldn’t get along with. The Blue team members were Miles, Peregrine, Eric and Jaclyn, and Red were Nicole, Ryan, Abdi and Mark. It took all of two seconds before we hear him talk about how nervous he is to work with Jaclyn due to past arguments, but when she attempts to mend bridges Erik very much appreciates the gesture. Erik’s hair-trigger for making a lot of ill-considered statements when he feels his own skills are either being negated or challenged is a shame, because it puts into question what often seem to be good intentions.
Like other challenges in this program, this one would have benefited from further consideration on the part of the producers. Work of Art has anarchy decide who’s going to be a team leader, and then evaluates contestants on who won what arguments. Better would have been a Project Runway type model where artists sketch proposals, the guest judge chooses the best two, and then teams executing the projects are evaluated on their execution. At least this way, the audience can maintain the illusion that quality matters. It would have also cut out a lot of misguided discussion about how grouping the artists in teams is counter intuitive to their practice. The concept of lone artistic genius doesn’t make a lot of sense in a time when countless artists outsource manufacturing and frequently work collaboratively.
As per usual the judging in this week’s episode makes no sense whatsoever. I realize these scenes are intensely edited, but even knowing this the judges seemed to respond better to the blue team before they went back to the gallery. In the park we hear about the beeswax cedar scent of the blue team’s sleigh and watch people happily climbing into its perch. By contrast the red team hears criticism about how its piece doesn’t have the relationship to the sky the group claims, and is too new age-y. Even when they return to Bravo’s gallery, gallerist Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn rightly complains that the work “is too close to all the bad sixties and seventies works.”
Strangely she changes her tune when discussing what they enjoyed about the work. “I really liked the poetry behind it” says Greenberg Rohatyn. Please. The dealer was undoubtedly referring to the title of the work The Noumenom, which suggests seeking out the hidden magic in the world, a place presumably located in the center of a corporate lobby somewhere. Past this, making a small object big, as they did with those stones is the oldest trick in the art book.
Meanwhile the blue team gets it. “To the Red Team’s credit, they presented a piece that was much easier to interact with” says Bill Powers, an argument about an uninviting geometric form I don’t buy for a second. Suddenly the safety of the structure was an issue and art critic Jerry Saltz notes the place in the sky the sculpture points towards, “That’s exactly the hole in the sky that the twin towers left”. Bravo makes this look like a giant mistake on their part, but that’s just ridiculous. A new building is being constructed as we speak, so why should the interpretation of that hole necessarily be negative? It could in fact be quite hopeful.
In any event, lets sum up this weeks results.
THE WINNER – The kind of art that gives art a bad name – Jerry Saltz
Based on the quality of the art alone, Nicole should have been eliminated as the Red Team’s leader.
THE REAL WINNER
No one. With the exception of Honig every member of The Blue Team issued sentiments about their team members that will ensure they’ll have nightmares for years to come. The Red Team made a horrible sculpture.
THE WRONGLY ELIMINATED
Erik Johnson deserved to go home several times over before this challenge, so while I’m not sorry to see him go, it should have been connected to his art. In a confrontation at the studio over artistic direction Johnson told Miles “I’m not your helper”. He wasn’t exaggerating his position, (even if he might have sucked it up like the rest of them) but if Erik’s full of bad ideas and poor instincts his team should have let him hang himself with his planted vine idea or snake scales. UPDATE: Jaclyn Santos writes about Bravo’s outright manipulation of cast to create a more “compelling” story line. UPDATE 2: I’m hearing accounts from Work of Art Contestants that this account is not accurate. Easier said than done when elimination is on the line, but at least that way they wouldn’t have been dealing with his hostility. “I’ve been around too long and been through too much to have some stuck up art pussy tell me life lessons” Johnson complains of Miles as he stops work all together. Even if he hadn’t gone home sulking “here ends my last ditch effort at art,” statements about pussies are likely to seal the deal. The art world is full of them and we like it that way.