As Work of Art‘s second episode begins, it's easy to forget Ugo Nonis is not actually dead. We get a full eulogy — “He was a nice guy. [Tewz]” “He really was. [Lola]” “I talked to Ugo, like, yesterday! [Young Sun]” — before the contestants listen to tales of Sucklord and Bayeté's brush with elimination last week. Sucklord, in a pair of his best glasses yet (translucent grey hulks that look like they fell off a car), seems to feel the proper amount of shame for his “stupid wizard”, but Bayeté is unfazed: “I just didn't feel my piece was that weak.” Yeah, right.
Then for some reason — presumably the rotation of the Earth — it's morning, and Simon de Pury bursts in and starts skipping up the stairs like Mary Poppins. “Wakey wakey!” he cries, “We have some exciting things in store for you! Today I'm going to take you on a journey!”
And so he does. Simon leads the fourteen artists in two straight lines down the sidewalk and into a park, where they pause to have China Chow stare at them. She is, inexplicably, dressed as a melting stick of butter.
The stare-down goes on for a while, with the contestants looking understandably uneasy; the whole scene has something of the air of a nature documentary, just after the wildebeests pick up a strange scent. On cue, a team of ninjas attack, doing handsprings and jumping off things. So there's our theme: parkour. Or, rather, “motion”, because even the producers of Work of Art realize parkour would be a stupid theme. So why use parkour to express motion at all, instead of kinetic art, or Futurism, or video art, or even Muybridge? The answer, of course, is because Work of Art is made for idiots.
The contestants are divided into two teams and told they'll each be expected to produce a coherent exhibition. It's the same method they used last season, and it's not a bad one; as the show plays out, you realize it's actually a pretty great way of making the one-note artists and gimmick contestants branch out a bit (or, spoilers, fall on their face). In any case, the factions are formed: Kymia, Sucklord, Bayeté, Dusty, Michelle, Sarah Jimenez, and Sarah K. are Team One, and Tewz, Leon, Young Sun, Lola, Kathryn, and Jazz-minh are Team Two.
Team One gets to work brainstorming. Bayeté wants to do “stop motion, with spinning, 360, with the parkour people doing motion.” Sucklord wants to play Mousetrap, which Michelle likes, only she wants Mousetrap with poop, and no Mousetrap. In response, Sucklord says Michelle likes to eat poop. Eventaully, the team decides to each represent a different digestive organ, like “stomach”, “chew”, and “vomit”. It's apparent nobody has any idea how the digestive system works, but it's sort of like a theme, so that's okay.
On the other team, things are more confused. Young Sun has his hustle face on, though, and the ideas sound a lot bigger: motion as migration, motion as decay, motion as evolution; this sounds a lot like art. Jazz-minh, who does not have time for this shit, runs off to play with the parkour people. She wants to make a piece less about migration and more about her and one of the parkour guys doing simultaneous handsprings, which is okay because she “honestly [doesn't] worry about what other people are doing.” It's not what you'd call a good idea, but it's got a lot of strategic sense to it, insofar as it actually has something to do with the complicated demonstration they just marched out specifically to watch and be inspired by.
Ultimately, everybody decides they'd brainstorm better if they went on a walk. Three seconds later, we find them arguing over why, exactly, they thought they'd brainstorm better if they went on a walk. Somehow it's decided that dumpster-diving has something to do with something, which allows a clip of Leon explaining that being free to pick stuff out of the trash is somehow part of his American Experience. There's a couple of shots of Sucklord tipping stuff over for no reason, a couple of clips of artists explaining how confused they are – Kymia explains, at one point, that the hosts using people moving to introduce motion was “a little bit more metaphorical” – and then, thankfully, we go to commercial.
Back in the studio, everybody is getting to work when Simon crashes in – “HELLO EVERYONE I'M HERE FOR MY STUDIO VISIT”, as you do – with an important message from the producers. “I want you to realize, there's only going to be one winning team, and the winner is going to be on that team. So, you'd better be on the winning team!” Got it.
His wisdom quota still unfilled, Simon goes to Sucklord's team with some question. Kymia has the unenviable job of explaining the team's idea – which is shit – while Bad Art Bassoon plays in the background. Simon's confused about whether the viewer will understand the “visual journey” from parkour to shit, which is a great feat of understatement.
The other team doesn't look much better. They're still talking about migration, but now for some reason it involves time and the moon and North Korea, and also handsprings and guts. Simon insists this is “too conceptual”. What he means is “stupid.”
Kathryn, for her part, looks to be well on her way to creating her piece about migration. It happens, of course, to take the form of a photograph of a bunch of fake guts. We're told this is because she has Crohn's disease, and that makes her think a lot about guts, and because what does it mean to you? is the core of all art ever. That doesn't get far. Simon, in particular, is skeptical. Kathryn explains her method: “Okay, so, when we were talking about motion, I got this visual in my head of like this organ”¦” She holds up her notebook to prove this is a good idea. Simon remains skeptical, and notices, with his trained eye, that this picture of a bag of guts is sort of like her last picture of a bag of guts. Kathryn stands her ground, and the whole thing gets really hard to watch. Eventually, Leon makes his interpreter say “motherfucker”.
Anyway, everybody goes back to the drawing board, and some fresh new ideas come out. Team One fairly quickly decides to do something or other about playgrounds, which through the magic of metaphor means nobody has to actually do anything different: Bayeté, who had previously been working on a “spinning, 360” idea, goes on the roof to spin; Sucklord, who had been working on something to do with the game Mousetrap, is now working on a game called “Flip the Rat”; and Jazz-minh, of course, is working with the photograph she took five minutes into the challenge. Over in Team Two things are a bit more convoluted, but Young Sun has taken command by dropping his curatorial experience into conversation every thirty seconds. After a lot of arguing, Leon puts forward the great idea they've been waiting for: circles. Kathryn, of course, is having difficulty with this – “Mine won't be an exact circle, though. I'm still fixated on what I'm doing.” – but Young Sun comes to the rescue: “What if you created, like, more of your weird organ stuff?” No dice. Kathryn starts to break down, compares herself to Francis Bacon (no surprise there), complains about “these fucking tableaux”, then locks herself in the bathroom to cry because now her weird organs are useless.
After a bit of emotion time, though, things start to take shape. Young Sun makes a silver Japanese flag called “Quake” which, in his words, is “very subtly” talking about Japan, and, you know, the earthquake. Because the flag moves. Kathryn, done dealing with her weird organs, begins recording herself with her weird organs. Michelle's professionally-crafted wooden kinetic sculpture about a pedo jacking it in the park is exactly why we like her. Dusty makes a life-size cardboard cutout of himself on a teeter-totter, because all great art ideas come from Home Alone. Lola makes baby voices at a pile of shredded paper, and says she'll come up with a meaning later.