Defending the Work

Trong reacts to the judges' critque of his piece, ""WWTFD?"

Jun 22, 20100

 

"WWTFD?" held a mirror up to the judges and artists, and offered up a reflection. The sculpture was essentially a portrait of "us." If you look at the position of the TV sets, they mimicked exactly the placement of the judges facing the critiqued artist. The piece was about our ambivalence at participating in a reality television show, which I thought was perfectly normal and healthy. The texts on the screens represented psychological thought bubbles, applying to those subconscious sound bites that race through our heads. What person hasn't said at one point or another, “I hate reality TV” or “It’s so fake!”? The sculpture was a script, and we all seemed to have followed it exactly.

"(What Would Tom Friedman Do?)" not only referenced the artist, but more importantly the acronym "WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?)". The sculpture was therefore looking at mass media and spectacle as religion, like Mark’s golden TV altar. The “insider” response to the work did not hold much water for me, since everyone there is an insider except for Erik. When artists create work, they think of their audience. For strategic purposes, my main audience was the five judges. But it was also very accessible to a mass audience in many other ways.

The very nature of art is that it asks us to approach life in a more roundabout, questioning way. It is this sense of self-doubt that "WWTFD?" was trying to broadcast. When given the opportunity to reflect, people often choose not to because the truth can sometimes be painful. As Jerry Saltz quoted Brice Marden, "The word 'painting' has the word 'pain' in it."

In a related way, these painted television sets offered the choice of seeing in color, black and white, or all the above. And, in all fairness, as a former Work of Art contestant once said, you can’t be "judgmental" without the "mental."

23 comments
Lisa Q
Lisa Q

while I wasn't in love with your work, I certainly thought it was better than many of the other pieces. One needs to remember that this show is as much an illustration of the business and networking part of art as it is the vision and application of skill. I certainly think your piece was better than Judith's (if nothing else, you knew what you were trying to say with your art) and way better than Nicole's (although talented and interesting, I just didn't get the piece or a few of her pieces actually, but I think having been on The Real Housewives of New York and being strikingly beautiful may have had something to do with keeping her on the show). Private jokes in art are rarely received well especially when the joker is on the outside of the social circle...just the twisted laws of keeping court.

zCharles
zCharles

For me the biggest disappointment of this series is the critique process, especially in how it relates to the preparation/description of the challenges. Just as you suggested, the target audience is extremely vague and very often inconsistent from challenge to challenge. The judges at times are swayed in their decision about how informed an artist is and at other times they feel like it is alienating the audience. As a fairly uninformed person, I generally disagree with the judges critique of people of my ilk. When I go to a gallery I am foremost struck by aesthetics but secondly I am very excited by the prospect of hidden messages - especially those begging to be decoded. A further explanation when available is an even bigger treat for me. I can't speak for all dumb asses, but I think it is unlikely that many of us prefer a blatant artistic statement to a blatant artistic novel or article. Most dumb asses appreciate art which engages or causes us to emote or feel affinity for. Most importantly, it should draw us in for a more involved look. Another major fault that I find with the judges is that they seem trained to adapt their language to the first critic. It seems as if they were asked not to argue amongst themselves. I personally find this impossible when I go to a gallery with anyone I know, even family and close personal friends. This was evidenced in the shocking challenge. Andres Serrano essentially told the critics that he was the most shocked by Nao's art and was completely ignored because it didn't follow their current discourse. When he expressed that John should have sucked his own penis the sentiment was happily mimicked to the point of unanimity because it worked with what they were saying. I have my doubts that they really felt this way... no matter how awesome that consensus would be to broadcast over time square.

I wasn't explicitly impressed with your art in the context of Kessler's words of wisdom in that I think he was looking for you to cherish the context of the pieces like a treasure with the presence of a semi-mysterious entity. I did feel like you approached this concept in the right way and it did evoke a "Matrix" kind of personality, but the deviation towards a written dialog seemed to kiss the idea of a self substantiated presence goodbye. On the other hand, that is not what the judges faulted you for.

Year Ray
Year Ray

Hi Everyone; My following comments are forced and uncertain, but offered spontaneously as proof (a)positive of my insistance that we need more focus on seeing the higher road ahead; on mutual/collective improvement. Aesthetic values are very noble indeed. However, like religious, juridical, democratic values, and all other simularly construed values, aesthetic values are better learned through a shared and received inspiration as opposed to the artist assuming an identity of the lone savant.

Simularly, exhibition of sanctity is superior to expression of sermon in religion. Application of laws, rather than establishment of law, determines judicial exemplarity. And, it is through representation of citizens/people's interest over speeches to the effect, that marks a truely participative democracy (etc.). This is all to say that analysis of Throng's "WWTFS" piece cannot be measured by values that slipslide into the murky abyss of partisan camps without suffering encouragement of the same types of wholesale decay that has marked the systems outlined above.

Notwithstanding the fact that ART has been rooted in a history and tradition of partisanship (splintered by gender, race, class, and culture); and Throng's piece certainly paid tribute to a coded iconographic ("WWTFS") and elitist or icon (Tom Friedman), the aesthetic value could have sustained itself without necessarily removing the reference to or use of the hidden High Cultural element.

Just as Judith's Pride and Prejudice piece could remain as backwards script if designed properly to reverse the reading eye. To illustrate, I suggest consideration of how little is recalled from what was written on the 3 family member/monitors which seems equally or more important than what was spewed from the TV as TV monitor.

While neither the Whaldorp Venus or Sphinx message or function is certain, each is highly valued for reasons beyond pure aesthetic value, i.e. antiguity/mystery. BTW, I have yet to Wiki or Google TF and still do not entirely know what Throng was saying beyond the wit of a family represented as monitors watching a TV although the pun is ripe for exploitation.

mask
mask

Trong was one of the most promising contestants.

Unfortunately he got bored and decided to make fun of the show w/ his piece. Actually pretty funny.

The judges couldn't take the hit to their egos, so they sent him packing.

Benzo1995
Benzo1995

Although I agree that you should not have gone home. You applied very little artistically to the piece and only a very small audience would have understood your concept. It's a little pompous on your part to assume that everyone should have known who Tom Friedman was. I suppose that is why you got eliminated. Not that it was the worst piece. You tried to flaunt your art intellect and it cost you. There were much better pieces than yours (not by professionals, like yourself) and you could have done better if your focus was on creating great art and not trying be the best.

Alex from MA
Alex from MA

You were robbed, Trong, as were the viewers. Your piece reminded me of one of my favorite works at Storm King Art Center: Nam June Paik's Waiting for UFO. I loved that you slammed TV's obsession with reality shows. The foolish critics missed your point completely. It doesn't matter at all whether one knows anything about Tom Friedman; those who do can share the wink, wink moment, while those who do not can focus upon the rest of your message about the monotony of countless reality programs. Neither Judith nor Jaime's pieces could hold a candle to yours. Clearly, the defensive critics just wanted to shaft you for being too challenging to their alleged authority.

RP
RP

Loved the concept, do not agree with the inacessability arguement, but thought it was very poorly executed. I don't think it should have sent you home, though. I did feel it was very much NOT up to par for you, and that may have been part of the decision.

KateRose
KateRose

Trong, I am an art and arts management student and watch Work of Art religiously. Your piece WWTFD as well as your self portrait at the very beginning of the season struck a chord of inspiration for me. I immediately went out and bout way more supplies than I could afford and worked for twelve hours straight. I was very shocked and sad to see you leave the show, as I felt the points you were trying to make with the sculpture came out very strongly. I hope that America hears more you in the future.

viewer22
viewer22

I really liked your entry and was very sad to see you go. You seem like a classy, calm guy. Plus talented!

JeaDeVoe
JeaDeVoe

Trong, I enjoy reading your web log. Unfortunately this piece as a sculpture, failed for me, as did Miles "worst Place" altar. When I think of the "Sphinx" a work that has outlived its original intent or the "Venus of Willendof", the original intent of is creation may be lost, but the piece has a transformative power that gives it a life of its own. For me the use of the written word's, limits the scope and visual power or the medium, there are exception's (Robert Indiana's "LOVE" sculpture). Some risk have a future and some people call them wrong, but being right may be like walking backwards, proving where you've been.Some times it's right to be wrong.

another artist
another artist

I was stunned that they chose you. Your work may not have been the most striking, but was quite defendable, as you've just shown, and far, far from the weakest of the group. The judges may have decided that the others "made good TV" and wanted to keep them a little longer. Even this I disagree with. Wishing you every success...

miamar
miamar

I enjoyed your (too) short time as well. Your blog is refreshing because it states so clearly all which the judges failed to get. In somewhat conspiratorial thought, one could assume you were booted off because you exposed the true "insiders" of American Contemporary Art,leaving Mr. Saltz out on his ass in such a humiliating (yet illuminating) faux pas.

JeaDeVoe
JeaDeVoe

Trong, I enjoy reading your web log. unfortunately this piece as a sculpture, fails for me, but so did "Miles" altar. When I think of the "Sphinx," a monumental work that has outlived its original intent or the "Venus of Willendof," the original intent of its creation may be lost, but the piece has a transformative power that gives it a life of its own. The use of the written words, limits the scope of the visual power of the medium, although there are exceptions(Robert Indiana's "Love" sculpture). I enjoy watching the show because, I am an artist and seeing you, as well as the others and the works, is a guilty pleasure. Some risks have a future and some people call them wrong but being right may be like walking backwards, proving where you've been.Some times it's right to be wrong.Risk are a measure of people, of course being wrong is a risk but being wrong isn't anywhere but being here now! best place to be yes?

More1
More1

I wanted you to stay, but really it you didn't re-invent anything new. You started with "A" and gave us "A" (but whitewashed). I was hoping you would take "A" and give us "WOW". It didn't meet the premise of this particular challenge. Sorry to see you go though.

thelakeeffect
thelakeeffect

I think Trong should not have been eliminated either!!! Miles should not only have not won---he should have been eliminated.

In the "appliance junkyard" episode, I think the judges were too vague.

During the judging, we learned that the judges did not like the art where the appliance was not "broken into " hence the painted vacuum cleaner and Trong's sets watching the big sets...got into trouble. AFTER the fact, that concept "break INTO the appliance---get beneath its surface--but still use the big appliance" seemed clearer, as they didn't like Judith's imaginative rearrangement of small appliance parts either.

I didn't know who Friedman was, but I am familiar with the WWJD and thus his acronym still communicated to me.

And how Miles did NOT get eliminated in the "appliance junkyard" but actually won - mystifies me still!

Fern
Fern

Well, this was a travesty. I totally 'got' your piece, and there is no poetic justice handed down yet that will hold these 'judges' accountable for their pompous,irrational, skewed opinions. I also thought giving the obviously self-indulgent work of Miles the top spot was utterly predictable given the tight realm of the judges' mindset. Also, telling anyone up there putting out his/her work that they are "not making art" is ludicrous. By the way..nice how Miles stabbed you in the back the way he did..he was way off base, especially in light of how much support most of the artists give each other behind the scenes. That is the single most inspiring part of the show. I love most of the interaction between the participants. Even to the point of allowing themselves to be the subject of another artist's work. You were sent away far too early, and I wish I had had the chance to see more of your work. =(

scruffmuppet
scruffmuppet

that piece was in my top three. You were willing to be critical of your surroundings. So for a panel that keeps repeated "take risks!" I thought this would be received with a little more appreciation.

I've looked up your other stuff, I'm into it. I hope others are into too.

Apple
Apple

I get it Trong! Loved your work and wish you hadn't gone so soon. Your piece was thoughtful and relateable. I didn't think it was too esoteric! I Googled Tom Friedman because of you! Too bad the judges didn't see it your way. There were a few others that definitely could have gone instead of you!

Watcher
Watcher

When the explanation of a piece is more creative than the art itself perhaps one might look for other ways to express his insipid personality.

b.
b.

Well said Trong. I personally know you are a true, professional artist and wholeheartedly the real deal.

Ragnar
Ragnar

Totally agree with Avid (above). Probably went right over the head of the judges, or perhaps too close for comfort?!? In any case, Trong did certainly not go rong with this one.

Avid
Avid

Great blog. I enojoyed your short time on the show and did not want to see you leave. In my opinion, there were a few others artists which should have gone before you. I actually loved your piece and thought it was such a smart take on what was going on in the world, and was really shocked the judges did not respond more favorably. At any rate, I look forward to seeing what else you have in store.

Best of luck!