Work of Art Episode 3: POP IS EVERYTHING Recap

by Will Brand on October 27, 2011 · 7 comments WANGA

Sarah Jimenez's "Essjay on Okqpid"

Sarah Jimenez's online-dating self-portraiture piece isn't fantastic, but it's a welcome relief after Kymia's tears. She's taking pictures of herself acting out every emotion she's felt in a relationship – it's unclear what this has to do with online dating – and I'm guessing the conceptual wrapping is about the packaging of personality into boilerplate “types” online (passe), or maybe emoticons (meaningless). Whatever the case, it’s clear she’s never tried online dating before, and she tells us as much in an interview. Bayete is making a piece where he combines the faces of Sarah Jimenez and Kymia, the two contestants of mixed ethnicity, and all I can get out of his explanation is that it's something about race and something about celebrity portraiture. I can't figure out, personally, whether picking the mixed-race contestants to begin with mutes his piece or saves it; either way, he's got immunity.

Young Sun is making a piece about Prop 8, because that's an exciting topic in 2011, and also has to do with Pop art. The front is “PROP 8” in large, intermingled letters, and the back is available for viewers to write on. He goes on for a bit about how fantastic it is that his piece doesn't espouse a particular view, but rather ~opens room for discussion~, because ambiguity in contemporary art is an unambiguous universal good and can hold a piece together on its own. Lola, for her part, is unimpressed: “Art about Prop 8 is everywhere in California, so it’s kind of like, um, and?”. She then goes back to making her own work, which is about Tahrir Square and texting.

Simon dishes out a few mini-crits – thumbs-up to Kymia, thumbs-down to Dusty (“simplistic”), thumbs-up to Sucklord, thumbs-down to Jazz-minh (“unbelievably boring”). Jazz-minh doesn't quite know how to fix her piece, but to her credit she takes a risk, abandoning her trademark living room painting figuration to focus on her photographs. Michelle gets a thumbs-down, which cues some more of that prescient fretting she served up earlier.

The last five minutes of studio time, of course, take about ten minutes of camera time. Tewz, inexplicably, has waited until now to tag his truck piece. As he does so, we listen to an interview wherein he explains that his art skills helped save him from being constantly raped while in prison for tagging a highway sign. This, apparently, is his “personal moment”, and it’s a weird one. Not a physical disease, not an emotional disorder, not the death of a family member, but the time he avoided prison rape? Oooohkay.


Just to add drama, Sucklord manages to tip over a can of paint on one of Jazz-minh's photographs. There's a brief moment of indecision – “DUDE!”, etc. – and then Jazz-minh decides to leave it there. The printer and photo paper are right there, so this is less emergency reaction than it is extremely poor decision-making skills. Her justification is that painting, which doesn't have anything to do with the topic at hand, is about losing control. The problem with this, again, is that Pop is the exact opposite.

So it's exhibition time, finally, and the guest judge is Rob Pruitt, the artist most memorable to readers for his art awards, his Andy Warhol monument, and his fight with an army of panda bears. He is, by all means, a fitting judge. During the pre-judgement milling, there are a few gems: Bayete, standing as far away from his piece as possible, at one point looks at it and says, “I hate that shit.” Pruitt and judge Bill Powers agree. Everyone loves Sucklord’s piece. Inexplicably, an old lady busts a move.

No explanation is provided.

Young Sun wins the round, because Entertainment Weekly didn’t want to publish boobs. Jerry Saltz raves about his work’s “presence” and calls it “an amazing advertisement for what it wants to be about”, which is true: certainly the piece looks great, and certainly robbing advertisement of purpose and intent lies at the core of Pop. Still, the idea of opening a dialogue doesn’t gel readily with the subject of Prop 8 – discussions about gay marriage have, after all, been an open and public discussion for years. Pop at its best opens the closed circuit of marketing’s tyrannically precise symbolism to analysis and splintering; here, one senses Prop 8 has been analysed and splintered enough already. Kymia, too, gets a rave crit from all of the judges: Jerry calls it “an advertisement for advertising”, which is spot-on; Rob Pruitt calls it “beautiful”; Bill Powers, about whom something must be done, calls it “product displacement”.

At the gallows, the judges don’t have much work to do: just about anyone remaining would be a worthy elimination here, so their eventual choices – Jazz-minh, Leon, Michelle, and Dusty – are reasonable. As they choose their victims, Bayete is told he’s “very lucky” to have immunity; Sucklord, who for some reason looks to be double-fisting six Dogfish Heads at this moment, shouts, “That’s cold.” Leon, as our supplementary bio predicted, is pressured to include more of his deafness in his work, and he rightly responds that Pop art isn’t about personal experience. Pruitt quotes Warhol, who once said he painted Campbell’s soup because it was what he ate every day; somehow, nobody raises the point that Warhol was constantly making stuff up and regularly conflated himself and the American public at large. Leon’s work is certainly dull – it’s a bunch of semi-transparent logos and flags in a meaningless pile – but his defense is sound, and the judges’ complaints seem ill-chosen. Dusty, frankly, never had a chance. His piece is eviscerated, because it has nothing to do with Pop and looks boring. Michelle is told off for being too Warholian, but that’s all the judges can muster.

The best crit of the night is clearly Jazz-minh’s, because it’s actually transparent, reasoned, and well-explained by the judges. When she explains the Britney Spears narrative, Jerry admits he got no further than “good girl/bad girl”, and the panel seems to be in agreement that the distinction between portraiture and celebrity portraiture is invisible (one might have leveled this criticism equally at Bayete’s piece). Sucklord’s paint splatter, which Jazz-minh earlier called the “most beautiful paint splatter possible”, fails to move the judges; rightly, they point out that it’s on the wrong photograph: had it been on the photograph of the media-directed, powerless image, it might have been an apt metaphor for lack of control; when it falls on the confident, self-defined character to the right, though, it works against the piece as a whole. China nails this point – perhaps her first real score of the season.

Ultimately, it’s Jazz-minh and Leon who get the axe. Leon’s departure was inevitable, but we certainly didn’t think it’d be this soon – he is, after all, very much an Acceptable Artist, and Dusty has somehow survived. In his exit interview, he seems suitably confused. Jazz-minh, whose overly commercial, suffocatingly safe style we complained about from the start, actually seems to leave the show with some awareness of her flaws: “I’m just going to work through whatever the block is that’s keeping me from making really strong work,” she says, and in that we wish her all the best.


Molly Porter October 28, 2011 at 2:43 am

That old lady busting a move is Ilona Smithkin. SHE is a work of art.

Will Brand October 28, 2011 at 3:04 am

Thank you, internet.

Ellen Yustas K. Gottlieb October 28, 2011 at 4:46 am

 too cerebral for pop art IMHO

Young Sun Han October 28, 2011 at 6:43 am

Always enjoy the recaps. Here’s an indirect response –

Anonymous October 29, 2011 at 1:46 pm

The judges either scold you for not doing your signature work or scold you for always doing it.  

Lauren M. October 31, 2011 at 3:07 am

I’m surprised Bayete didn’t just make vague American Apparel ads with “opposites” and call it a night.

Livmoe November 2, 2011 at 1:42 am

I’m surprised there was no mention of Sucklord’s ostentatious glasses on top of wacky glasses look in the opening scene at Simon’s fortress.

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