As it turns out $5,000 dollars and three solid months of studio time to produce an exhibition goes a long way. This point was demonstrated last night on Bravo’s reality show Work of Art, as audiences watched the final three contestants, Miles Mendenhall, Peregrine Honig and Abdi Farah produce three finished bodies of work for display at Phillips de Pury’s auction house (hurray no more carpeted Bravo galleries!). All produced far superior art than we’d seen previously, the gulf between what can be made in a few hours vs many months being far more extreme than what viewers see on Project Runway. This is likely a liability for the show — Audiences get far more out of the last episode than the nine before it — but it at least demonstrates a harden reality of art making: Time and resources are required to produce good work.
For this reason it would be better if the show’s winner reflected the amount of experience needed to develop a mature body of work. “I have a month left to make the most amazing body of work I’ve ever made” Abdi Farah tells audiences. He actually has the rest of his life, but this is the perspective you get from a 22 year old.
That said, from what I saw last night Farah may have achieved his goals, even if it still falls short of what I would consider a strong exhibition. Farah won the show finale — an outcome I have some reservations about — though I didn’t see the show in person. Not being able to view the work in the flesh was an issue with Mendenhall as well — op art never translates onto the screen — but less so in the case of Honig who’s installation appeared document easily.
That I would want to see the work at all before passing judgement a good sign for the quality of the work itself, and Bravo did well not to undercut the credibility of the exhibitions with their regular carpet laden gallery. I will note however that Sarah Jessica Parker’s “wows” at the final show were a little ridiculous as are Bravo’s fifteen millionth mention of the Brooklyn Museum as “The Greatest Museum in the World”. This reads in stark contrast to last week’s New York Times article asking various professionals for suggestions on how the institution could improve their programming.
I’m not going to bother recapping the entire episode — readers can watch footage of Simon de Pury’s studio visits on their own but a few notes before I discuss the work:
Guest Judge David LaChapelle: If there’s another season I guess we can expect Kehinde Wiley to make an appearance in the final episode? Keep in mind LaChapelle is the photographer who was universally made fun of this December at Art Basel over twitter for his photographs depicting Michael Jackson as a modern day martyr. LaChapelle adds art world sale-ability to his art by referencing art historical works, but there’s zero depth to this work. He’s basically a pop/commercial photographer who got lucky and enjoys a healthy art market too. This makes him perfect for Bravo.
The Brooklyn Museum: What work best fits the Brooklyn Museum’s community focused programming? Abdi Farah’s ham fisted work — the best/worst sculptures addressing the issue of race. Coincidentally, the museum today announced its purchase of Unbranded by Hank Willis Thomas. This is definitely the best work the artist has produced (the superhero paintings needed to go) though as far as that sculpture is concerned, he’s also Farah’s closest contemporary in the cheeseball identity art genre of art making.
Things the Art World Would Like to Ignore: As others have already mentioned, even as a wholly falsified representation of the art world, Work of Art brings to light realities many of its workers (including myself) would like to ignore. Beauty and connections benefit the practitioners who have either (contestants Ryan Shultz, Jaclyn Santos and Nicole Nadeau, and judges Bill Powers and Jeanne Greenberg-Rhotayn), liberal lip service masks conservative positions (Jaclyn Santos, Bravo editing, and the shock episode), and abstraction in the art world is shunned (kidding). Guest judge and painter Richard Phillips adds to this list, one of the greatest point of unbalance in the art world: The all powerful curator. “I've been to the Venice Biennale and there are always these huge displays where the artists seem like subcontractors to the celebrity curators in charge,” he told Carolina Miranda recently. “Their work is being seen in this falsified synthetic world. What's exciting about the show is that we are seeing this process in action.”
Phillips spins a positive from the replication of a problem the art world would do well to work against, so needless to say, I don’t share his enthusiasm for this aspect of the show. I still applaud him for identifying it though.
Problem number one: Why are there no full installation shots of this exhibition? There are a large number of garish portraits on Bravo’s website I can’t seem to find in Bravo’s footage. This makes the exhibition difficult to discuss.
Problem number two: “I walked in and was like, is this about Haiti?” says David lachapelle, “No they’re dancers stretching. No, they’re athletes stretching, cause they’re wearing athletic cloths. So you’re not telling us what it is exactly but there’s such beauty there that I couldn’t stop looking at it.” Um, why do dead black figures wearing sports wear evoke Haiti?
Problem number three: I’d argue the pose Farah’s created suggests the Creation of Adam, which is a little less bleak, but I agree with Jerry Saltz. The exhibition is over determined for my taste: Body bag, fallen figures, darkness. It’s too much. The sketch book at the beginning of the show was a poor decision — it’s not like Farah’s Robert Crumb –and there were a fair number of garish photoshoppy filter paintings on the Bravo site I could do without. Still, as I mentioned earlier, it’s clearly the best work Farah’s produced thus far, and this exhibition at least looks like it was made with some awareness of the art world.
Peregrine Honig made a carnival — a response to her experience on Work of Art. The dead baby deers under encased in a vetrine, a contorted decapitated head, legions of vomiting girls. Honig’s conceit was solid and executed well. I even liked the frames, which though boring seemed to represent the sameness, and product vision bravo held for the cast. Still, the work looked a little too ten years ago to me. The cotton candy machine = Exit Art 2000, the baby deer = The Armory Show 2000, the vomiting girls = actually even if these look a little dated, they’re okay. It’s mostly their placement on the page that’s a problem: the compositions are too easily resolved by simply drawing a lone figure in the center of the paper.
Invisible History art never wins on Bravo. Miles Mendenhall’s exhibition was inspired by cell phone pictures he took of security monitor. He shot multiple pictures of an old alcoholic who regularly ate at White Castle. Three days after the photographs were taken, the man died.
To my mind, these abstractions look a little cold. Also the original images should have been excluded. They read like sketch book drawings and are reminiscent of Nao’s placement of Miles face nearby the abstract portrait she made of him for the first challenge. Unfortunately for Mendenhall, I’m told that his piece was very reliant on theatrical spot lighting, which was eliminated for TV audiences. This would have added a completely different layer to the work — possibly even making it the strongest of the lot. It’s hard to say though without seeing the work in person. Farah is the only one who will receive that “honor” and he’s the only one whose art I’m certain needs time to mature.