Work of Art Episode 9 Recap: “GOOD ART.”

by Ben Macaulay on December 16, 2011 · 5 comments WANGA

Detective Chow, on the case of last week's missing talent.

Work of Art‘s weekly eulogies have become less about the show’s eliminated contestants and more about the fear instilled in the remaining artists to actually make good art.  While Sarah Kabot’s absence does resound with the remaining five, her ‘Thanksgiving collage with genitals‘ piece in the last challenge was so bad that the best sound byte Bravo can squeeze from the contestants is “she has nothing to be ashamed of.” This, coming from Dusty.

All are horrified to hear that they are being sent upstate to Cold Spring, NY., even Young – who assumes that anything outside the city proper must be a spa.  The reality sets in when Dusty starts feeling at home.  Drama plagues the already arduous Metro-North ride, as Sara refuses to take as a compliment former co-underdog Kymia’s surprise at her most recent success.

Host China Chow awaits the group on a rainy sidewalk, the most notable public space in Cold Spring.  The challenge is simple: the artists have an hour to find someone interesting, and then get a full day to create their portrait.  Dusty is afraid of terrorizing the villagers, but has watched enough 1990’s made-for-TV movies to know that a child’s innocence is the one thing that can see past his monstrous visage.  He heads for the nearest child, asks her if she likes candy and takes her picture.

Let's be glad Lola didn't tell her any secrets.

Young has heard of these ‘small towns’ before and hits up a bed-and-breakfast for some juicy gossip.  The promise of Jacuzzis lures him into an entirely commercialized tour taking up most of his time.  Luckily, just down the street is a kindred art spirit and the two engage in a portrait duel.  The Cold Spring painter is the clear winner, leaving with $200 for a 20-minute painting.  Young keeps the painting of himself for his piece, as well a few photos of the painter.

Lola’s preference for ‘bad boy’ types is immediately apparent to a local woman drinking out of a paper bag, who sends her to “the motorcycle guy” next door.  Unfortunately for the audience, this is a dead end, and Lola has to settle for two coin collectors.  Sara takes a systematic approach, choosing the oldest fireman in the local station as he is certain to have the most stories about being in fires.  Kymia, meanwhile, finds the designated Right Answer, a couple running an antique shop who haven’t fallen out of love despite all odds (the guy is wearing a John Deere cap).  Their creation myth, a skating lesson that just happens to mimic the illustration on their favorite music box, is an almost suspicious low-hanging fruit.

Simon comes early, and Kymia rightly points out that his eyebrows say more than his words, indicating a dislike of her painting that his comments fail to fully convey.  Immediately referring to antiques as “orphans,” Kymia too has an interesting way of getting her thoughts across.  Dusty’s candy portrait looks exactly the same as the crayon self-portrait that got him on the show, and Lola’s “what constitutes a portrait?” is just the kind of foreshadowing that would have gone perfectly with the jazzy dissonance Bravo reserved for the earlier Metro-North trip.

Young has lost his edge.  Perhaps the money has gotten to his head (his thoughts during Sarah Kabot’s eulogy: “it’s just, like, raining dollars everywhere”), or he’s just running low on gay anecdotes, but this week’s quip is lifeless: “These are my boyfriend’s scissors. Every time I use them it’s like I’m holding his hands.” Cool story, bro-of-bros, but it’s not your fagnum opus.  Also, if Young’s time with the Cold Spring painter had as much “tension and game” and “furtive” gazing as he described to Simon, I’m sure Bravo would have something steamier to show us.

The most phallic thing I could find in this episode, sadly.

Bravo pads the episode with an abridgement of last week’s crying montage; Kathryn and Sucklord’s pain simply has no diminishing returns.  Kymia is still frustrated about her misunderstanding with Sara on the train, but gives up on finding a suitable retort and blurts out that she doesn’t think Sara will make the final three. The grudges are soon set aside: Sara and Lola have a dance party while Kymia cries at its beauty.

Anyone who saw the very first episode of Work of Art last year can guess how the gallery portion of this challenge played out.  Last year, the judges (including this season’s China Chow, Bill Powers, and Jerry Saltz) directly ranked the portraits of their first challenge by photorealism: the winner was a photograph of the subject’s face, second place was a naturalistic painting from a photograph of a face, the second to last was an abstract drawing hung in front of a very small picture of a face, and the loser was an abstract painting with no face.  This episode’s guest judge is Richard Phillips, whose straightforward, slightly idealized paintings of faces fall safely in line with the judges’ tastes in portraiture.

The Cold Spring residents find themselves once more roped into Bravo’s affair.  Pieces of Dusty’s candy fall from his now-vertical portrait as the girl they depicted rushes over to eat them.  Watching a child eat herself would have been a great performance piece in itself, but we are left only with Jerry Saltz’s declaration: “GOOD ART.”

Sara’s portrait is punched out of tin and hangs over a larger sheet of tin next to fifty-eight name tags of charcoal on the same tin, one for each year her subject was a firefighter.  Phillips decides that the material, proximity and subject matter are not sufficient for a link between the image and name tags, and while one might expect Sara to respond to this allegation, her earlier comment to Simon that charcoal is “made of fire” makes me glad that she doesn’t. Critique aside, the depicted fireman weeps at the sight of his memorial.

Kymia’s painting of her subjects standing next to each other and holding antiques understandably does well in the critique.  If anything, the few ways in which the painting does not simply show its subjects’ physical appearance are what confound the judges.  Phillips, unfamiliar with detail in painting (however mild it may be in Kymia’s work) recounts his first experience with an aesthetic other than his heavily-airbrushed own as “throwing up inside.”  Kymia takes the compliment, and the win.

Young gets points from China for not having a clear portrait: he’s hung the painting commissioned of himself on the wall and pasted his bland photographs in small pieces on wooden planks leaning against the wall in various directions.  Of course, if anyone but Young obscures a portrait it’s seen as a detriment.  Phillips and Saltz go so far as to assert that the painting of Young would stand alone as a portrait of the Cold Spring painter, oblivious to their own tendencies to disregard any concept not made glaringly obvious.

Lola’s display houses a few different objects that portray her chosen pair’s obsession with coin collection and old money: blown-up images of the money itself, along with handwritten letters and a small drawing of the two on a dated wooden shelf.  The general aesthetic of the piece is more consistent and relevant than in her other pieces, however it is very similar to her panned entry in the car parts challenge; with attitudes such as Phillips’s – who “really had to examine” Kymia’s obvious painting “to have an appreciation” – it should be obvious to Lola that immersive displays neither hold the judges’ attention nor suit time-based challenges. Phillips believes that Lola is “obfuscating” … intransitively. In response, Lola shows honest emotion for the first time, even if it is only to explain that she is being defensive “because [she] wants to fucking be on this show.”

Phillips thinks that Dusty’s work is the only piece to “bind material to image,” perhaps forgetting Sara and Young’s pieces, and evoking the frustration of even China Chow, who sharply decrees that “there’s nothing special about it.”  China delivers the bad news, clad in the style of Björk’s ‘swan dress’: Lola and Dusty are off, while Sara, Kymia, and Young move on to the season finale.

Next week: Kymia continues to cry, a vast amount of laundry dries in the gallery, and China Chow has a very large button on her head.


Ben C. December 17, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Bravo, Ben M!

... December 19, 2011 at 6:53 pm

maybe you should avoid using homophobic slurs that are considered widely offensive, even in jest (fagnum opus). the fact that this blog is called art fag city is hard enough to swallow.

Huh Madi & December 20, 2011 at 12:13 am

who shall be victorious?

Walter Latimer December 22, 2011 at 10:49 am

edit- nevermind

Paddy Johnson December 22, 2011 at 10:54 am

Yeah no kidding.

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