“Do you think Captain Crunch would make a good dad?” asks Miles Mendenhall, uttering the first words in this week’s episode of Work of Art. The question is of no relevance to this week’s challenge — incorporate stuff you’ve found on your trip to woods into your work — but, this, coupled with a shot of Mendenhall‘s bare ass is the episode’s only moment not completely riddled with cliche (though the latter point may be debatable). Two seconds after Mr. Crunch is discussed Bill Powers enters wearing his sunglasses indoors, an annoying affectation even if he falls in line with everyone else who is either dressed by Bravo, or wearing giant metallic bows or bunny ears for the camera. I’m fairly certain the show gave critic Jerry Saltz a pair of Puma sneakers as I’ve never seen him wear them out gallery hopping.
Jaclyn Santos proves insufferable this challenge, whining about her cold and anything else she could think of, Miles ultimately sees the error in his ways and decides that mustard gas should not be created in a public studio space, while Abdi Farah mixes his black rocks found in the woods with some pigment, saying he’ll take “charcoal drawing to the next level”. He didn’t do it, but his Saltz dubbed “Palm Beach art fair” frame and drawing still managed to win this week’s show. I suspect it’s no coincidence that this academic figurative work meets almost every cliche of what “art” should look like.
Speaking of the expected, after Jaclyn sulked about not being able to cheat on her challenge by using work produced in off hours, she ended up getting eliminated with a set of photographic landscapes with a horizontal pole and a rock in the center as a horizon line. The pole as a compositional device showcased more imagination than we typically see from her, though I’m not sure why her piece needed two horizon lines. It’s not like her photographs didn’t already have one. As for the spat with her colleagues, Santos published a giant list of exceptions to the rules granted to others listed on her blog. Readers will have to forgive me for not buying the idea that being able to use a material not included in a particular challenge is equivalent to taking more time than all the other artists.
Leap mid-episode and Simon de Pury is dolling out his usual advice. “I wonder whether at that scale the piece will be powerful enough to impress the judges” de Pury tells Nicole Nadeau. This is the bias of an auctioneer who sells work for more the bigger it is and wouldn’t have been a solution even if Nadeau had been able to manage it. It would have just been a larger hippy air-fresher. I hate to say it, but she needed to start over.
Nearby Peregrine Honig took a slightly more original approach to nature, even if it was never resolved. I’m not a fan of tree people sculptures in general, but I at least enjoyed Honig’s initial description as “a really annoying teenaged mother nature”. This was unfortunately derailed after a critique with Simon de Pury and Miles’ poor idea that kids sneaking off into the woods would help the piece. Enter the bad illustration drawings. Next thing we see is a tree figure with more figures. They are mostly having sex, an insubstantial addition to a piece that clearly needed another couple of days in the studio.
Not until the crits do we meet this week’s guest judge Michele Oka Doner, an artist who’s career is marred by cliche work and representation by Marlborough Gallery Chelsea. Predictably, she loves Abdi’s work and offers up some of the most insubstantial feedback I’ve seen from a judge. “I looked at it and it’s really your heart and soul” Michele Oka Doner tells Farah. She doesn’t mention that his heart and soul offered up a very literal interpretation of baptism and rebirth.
As for the results, next week we’ll see the three solo shows of remaining contestants Miles, Peregrine and Abdi. Abdi should have been knocked out this week, but whatever. At least we don’t have to look at any more of Santos work.
THE REAL WINNER
Even if Miles didn’t produce his strongest work, it was still the best of the lot. It was a little over produced, but I liked that the problem of what how his materials would react was in question enough that it didn’t produce very interesting results. I am also comforted by the artist’s own reflections on the work. “Seeing the work I’m a little queasy. I’m really self-conscious about being young and to compensate for that I try to do as much as I can, and at a certain point it’s too much. If I make it into the finale I’m not going to make that mistake again.”
Like there was any question. Speaking of which, I look forward to seeing his show at the Brooklyn Museum.