Work of Art Episode One: Kitsch or Ditch

by Paddy Johnson on October 13, 2011 · 7 comments WANGA

Is there anything Bravo could possible do to improve upon Work of Art’s premiere season?  The mind reels with that thought, but if the first episode is any indication (and it almost never is), Bravo’s challenges may exhibit a little more ingenuity than the previous season. This week’s challenge, transform a “bad” work of art, already raises the bar compared to last year’s middle school portrait assignment. Contestants were invited to chose a work from a room filled with kitschy art, and somehow a ceramic teddy remained on its pedestal. The closing shot for the scene zooms in on the teddy while ominous music plays overhead. Hilarious.

Back at the studio, Sucklord this, Sucklord that. The name alone will keep this guy on for at least four more episodes. In other notable scenes; The Sucklord chants verses from what might have been the Lord of the Ring, young Lola nearly cries due to the stress of making art, and auctioneer and Bravo mentor Simon de Pury proffers his usual “go for it”-type pearls of wisdom in the studio. “Offputting” and “visually intriguing” are the words he uses to describe Kathryn Parker Almanas‘s piece, which basically looks like bloody upchuck. Needless to say, nothing that revealing happens until the exhibition and eliminations. At that point we’re introduced to the judges, who continue last year’s tradition of producing conclusions only a movie studio could come up with.

Michelle Matson's Eternal Woodsman

I’m not going to bother complaining about who got eliminated —  nearly everyone who opened their mouth around Ugo Nonis did so to ask if he’d “heard of Keith Haring”, so he’s as good a choice as any —  but what’s with Sara Jimenez‘s inclusion in the top three? She produced an illustrative watercolor (?) of woman bound and roasted over a hot fire. Aside from the infantile subject matter, the composition is slightly off-center and there is almost no tonal range in the ground; somehow, it’s still completely overworked. This piece was deemed “fused…on an almost psychological level” by the panel of esteemed judges. If only I had a penny for every time I heard that in a Chelsea gallery.

Anyway, Michelle Matson‘s woodsman memorial was a good choice for the win, but it’s too bad Young San Han‘s performative rendering of a dog painting didn’t make it into the top three, or even get any screen time at all — it perfectly reproduced the light in his original picture. It’s also too bad Bravo ever thought to cast photographer Mary Ellen Mark as a guest judge. “I really like the Sucklord’s piece” the great luminary said of the toy wizard, “It spoke to me”.

Cue the Jerry Saltz eyeroll. Pardon my frankness, but if this season is going to be any good, we’ll need a lot more of those.


Will Brand October 13, 2011 at 9:20 pm

“It spoke to me.” “What did it say?” was a brilliant exchange. 

Also, can we talk about how every “good” artwork prompts the question, “What does it mean TO YOU?” The answers are all terrifically boring or overly sentimental, but they’re presented as though they’re solutions to some central question of contemporary art. If art can only be supported on the back of biography, it’s pretty fucking worthless.

Besides which, none of the contestants up for elimination got to deliver a similar spiel. Ask the Sucklord what Gandalf means to him and maybe that piece stops looking like shit (maybe); I can see an alternate universe where he wins this round because everybody gets hard from him reciting the book as he casts the sculpture (processssss). I dunno that the other two would have been as interesting, but they should at least be given a chance — “What does this piece about being black mean to you?” “That I’m black.”; “What does this empty bit of sexy hotel art mean to you?” “That I’m empty, sexy, and… belong in a hotel[? this got tough suddenly].”  

Other highlights: shots of Sarah K’s works based on parallel lines, with a voiceover of her explaining how her versatility would be her greatest strength, followed by a shot of her painting a cat with parallel lines. To be fair, she pulled it out and made something fun (she cut it up, right?).

Also, I love that the last part of the episode was Lola’s goodbye hug to Hugo, followed by a teaser for next week in which she’s posing nude for Sucklord. What a fantastic opportunist.

Sebastian Aravena October 14, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I see the need for a backstory, but I think that the judges allowed to works to speak for themselves visually. Then, after they had made up their minds, they asked the favored contestants about their work. Since the works themselves didn’t say anything to them, they didn’t care to hear what the less favored artists had to say. In spite of the Sucklord’s compelling will to jump in and pitch his Play-Doh Gandalf.

Really, it’s only fair that they were asked to keep their mouths shut. Because anyone that walked the walk knows how to use their “Art Bullshit Encyclopedia” at will.

With this said, I’m enjoying the Sucklord’s button pushing. I just hope to see something appealing come from his studio space.

Big Little Wolf October 13, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Gotta love the eyeroll. Personally, I think it would’ve been fun to keep Ugo around for a bit, too. Last season was a slow start; I can only assume this season will be the same.  

Anonymous October 13, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Yeah, Jerry Saltz did a really great job in this episode, his comments sounding substantial even when they weren’t. “The piece looked like almost nothing” is a fantastic criticism, but doesn’t exactly apply Bayette’s work, which suffered from the opposite problem. There was far too much going on in that piece, past communicating a rather simplistic and bombastic message. I actually wonder whether Saltz actually was even talking about his;  Bravo tends manipulate comments and shots to create false narratives. 

Jesse P. Martin October 14, 2011 at 4:38 pm
Joyce Jackson October 14, 2011 at 4:50 am

Bayonne is already really boring. They’re going to toss him soon, the identity art won’t keep it at bay very long. If he wants to stay on the show, he’s going to have to grow some tits pretty fast, I can just tell.

Ahim Anyd October 14, 2011 at 7:19 am

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