Art in TV Land

Jeanne applauds Miles' youthful enthusiasm and discusses Ryan's polarizing work in this week's junk challenge.


This week's graveyard challenge immediately brought to mind such artists as Nam June Paik, Bruce Nauman, Chris Burden and Jon Kessler. So how cool that Jon came on the show as our first guest artist!? As a teacher of many years, he is used to talking on the spot. He immediately set a mandate for the artists to breathe life into the defunct objects.

Nao has a fighting spirit and good for her that she is unapologetic. The setup of cameras and stopwatch is extreme, and yes, comparable to a college crit. Nao says in this episode that she is sure to be among the top three, and her confidence is applaudable, especially following Mark's cringe-worthy comment last week about being OK with a B+. (Go to Jerry's blog on the New York Magazine's website for more.) Nao's paper cut-out work was a bit too illustrative, and on TV looked like an enormous pop-up book at best, and at worst a paper shredder out of Tim Burton's office. The scene of her hunting for pictures on the roof with the plastic bag headpiece, perhaps reclaiming the plastic from Miles' winning portrait of her, was Nao at her best.

I was the only judge that liked Ryan's unraveled zebra sculpture. To Jerry (my walk around partner) the sculpture was a mess, with the form barely distinguishable. But the shape took on that of a classical pieta, with a sculptural rhythm. His is, however, a bit clownish to watch at work.

Judith needed a better plan. Instead she got caught untying knots. We have all been struck by tunnel vision. Jon Kessler makes tinkering look easy, but it is clearly not.

Trong seemed absent from his crit - blank as his TV screens. When Bill asked Trong if he would include this work in his own retrospective, it was surprising that Trong did not play along, neither defending the work nor claiming defeat. Of course, few artists want to be approached as dead, planning their retrospective. In this time-based contest, a capable artist's fate lies in the strength of a single work. Our judgments are not cumulative.

Nicole's burial diorama, if a bit nostalgic, was especially moving in person. Her careful categorization of the objects obsolescence was touching, even intimate. She took to heart Jon's note that each object holds its history. She built her own archeological site, her mini-grand canyon. She showed sophisticated use of on hand materials - it was not just objects buried in a sandbox. Perhaps if Miles hadn't made the clutch move of sleeping through the viewing, she might have won this one. But probably not.



Miles' open appreciation and thrill over being in the studio is refreshing. Just give him "free beer and tools" and he will stick around. His youthful no baggage, no judgment approach to being a contestant on this show reassures that TV land is a legitimate venue for an artist, and not because "professionals" show up as mentors and judges, but rather because artists like him have entered the space. An alternative, or rather additional place in the chain can only be good - from gallery and museum, to the street and desert (Michael Heizer's City is said to be mind-blowing), to the web and TV... .

Which brings me to a blogger's comment that he will stick to PBS' Art21. I was on this board for several years and continue to support the show. Art21 is a smart, educational tool, with an excellent curatorial focus on well-known artists at work. But like this show, it has a specific format and structure that is undeviating and thus becomes didactic. With more resources, they might stretch their content, reworking it for different audiences. But the funds just aren't there. Work of Art uses a backhanded way for such dialogue. Come on, does Bravo really need a sign saying, "Warning - Keep out of the classroom?" Please, this is a contest show on late-night cable television.

In terms of my clothes on the show, I am wearing items pulled from my own closet. I have so much makeup on that I look a bit like a tranny, but this is TV, so I'm going with it!

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The Drama's Done

Jerry gives his thoughts on the final three exhibits.

“Then all collapsed,” goes the last passage of Moby-Dick, “and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.” Work of Art ended last night, although without sublime terror. Its end brought three good shows by three good artists, any one of whom could have won, all three of whom could have real careers (ditto the recent losers Lola and Michelle; Sucklord, get thee to Mordor). The three finalists, plus with my overall feelings about the program this season, tell me that a sea change took place on our show this season, in public and private. Last year, waves of hatred predicted the collapse of the art world and the destruction of art by television; this year unfurled in its own spreading shroud. A bit like art itself: sometimes capturing attention, mostly gliding slowly by.

This year’s Work of Art was less sideshow, more grad school. I suspect that it made for less entertaining TV, though the artists were better and, unlike last year’s, had a sense of how it would go. Each found ways of making personal work in the midst of one of the most impersonal situations any will ever face. As for me: I tried to be clearer in my criticism, weighed fifteen pounds more than last season, marveled as Bill Powers blossomed into an excellent judge, crushed on China Chow, gasped at Simon de Pury’s charisma. I stood in front of a dozen cute stylists. I saw my bald head powdered with makeup. I wore white Spanx that broke my dark heart. It’s a hard … it’s a hard … Wait. Sorry.

About the finalists: Just as last year’s winner, Abdi, should have been given a grant to a good grad school (with the win going instead to the true artist, Peregrine Honig), the excellent artists Lola and Michelle didn’t make it. Sara, who did make the final three, surprised me. After starting off making nice watercolors, she lapsed into cliché and confusion. Although her personality feels oddly absent (both in the flesh and in her work), she got in touch with her inner performance artist, the sculptor within, and excelled with materials. I’m told that Sara is in grad school now, and it should give her a chance to develop her talents. She didn’t win on this night, when much of her show dealt with secret lives and mutant creatures. Once she escapes generic symbolism (like the hypodermic needles she stuck in an old mattress) and ersatz surrealism (origami birds flying from a cage), her work, I imagine, will stand up in the real art world. Congratulations, Sara.

Young’s work rattles with repressed emotion and cerebral acuity. Sharp as a tack about art, the most articulate contestant ever on this show, he became adept at merging the social, the personal, and the material. His show dealt with life, loss, longing, the death of his father, and the cancer of his mother — a lot to take on at once. Thus, it lost emotional momentum. I fancy that Young’s losing a TV game show about art might make his eventual art career easier (though the $100,000 might’ve helped, too). He should move to New York, find a dive in Bushwick, have his New York nervous breakdown, and join a promising next wave of talented people.

Kymia took the prize based on her drawing skills. The surfaces of her drawings didn’t come across on TV, but they were covered in pebble-like flecks, pooled paint, sedimentary minerals, and other original marking techniques. Replete with circumspect touch and fine line and nicely scaled, they had physical presence and psychic gravitas. I was most taken with her rendition of a ship, a sort of psychic raft from the underworld drifting on Melville’s rolling ocean. The shadow of two legs on the sails was hokey, but I wasn’t bothered by this lapse into bathos. Her outing showed an artist following her vision to wherever it led her.

Which is what this show was for me. It already feels far away. My wife has still never watched a minute of Work of Art, though she loves that I did it. So do I. I’m not sure why this is, and would love artists to tell me if there’s an equivalent in their process, but for me Work of Art was all about the before and the after. The show itself was never the thing. It was about getting out of my office; learning how TV is made; being around artists trying as hard as they could; being a part of a mass of people, cameras, lights, and sound equipment functioning as an organism; confronting my fear of celebrities when the show’s executive producer, Sarah Jessica Parker, was a guest judge; being ogled by stylist girls while standing in my underpants. I loved making the show, trying to bring art to a wide audience, writing about it, and the tens of thousands of conversations it generated via my recaps, Facebook posts, tweets, and random street-corner conversations. I dug the shock of someone saying to me in my building’s elevator, “Hey! You’re that mean art-critic judge on TV.” All this experience enriched me, my life, my work, and my stomach.

But the televised show itself? I missed watching four episodes this year — twice I forgot it was on, and twice I had the wrong time. That’s how curious all this has been for me. Right now I feel at peace with my TV god; I’ve gotten everything I wanted. Now it is done. As I am a confessed inner hysteric, allow me a final act of exaggeration, as I end this strange, strange voyage into art criticism on television with the epilogue of Moby-Dick: “The drama's done ... one did survive the wreck ... I was he whom the Fates ordained ... I floated on a soft and dirge-like main. The unharming sharks ... glided by ... I was picked up at last ... another orphan ... I alone am escaped to tell thee.”

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