Close Call

Jeanne weighs in on this week's opposing art works, and reflects on Mark's elimination.

 

Last week Ryan was sent home. On my computer screen, his work reproduced well. His rejected crumples spilling onto the floor, with his scratchy, left-handed drawings hung from above, depicted this challenge. Child-like screw ups and sketches, yet adult in abstracted gesture and display (which also reminded me of his unraveled Zebra sculpture from the graveyard challenge). The attempt to draw left-handed, and its failure, seemed enough to pull him through. Left brained, left footed ... but flat footed.

Sorry that I was not around for these two episodes, it won't happen again.

This week the remaining six artists were given sweeping art historical topics to tackle in pairs. Certainly their team discussions felt vague, as if these topics had been left unattended in their educations, either in science class (order and chaos), religion or art history (heaven and hell), or in history and at the playground (male and female). But these topics require discussion. Google any one and be overwhelmed just by the pages. Jeff Koon's famed "Made in Heaven" series combined all of these topics into one. He would have been the ideal judge for this challenge!

In general, this episode revealed how hard it is to talk about art - cleverly highlighted by the goof during the commercial break where the artists attempt to describe their meaning of art. It is edited as one big blooper. Not to say that I did not enjoy this - I did. The frustration and pleasure of their stops, starts and pauses are genuine, and drive me to be more articulate and clear cited when discussing art.

Again this week, the losing work looked good on screen. Mark's blissed out depiction of himself at the pearly gate was readable - the only element missing was his wings. And, despite Jerry's comment and Peregrine's worry, his team's "light and dark" approach does carry historical precedence - think Hieronymus Bosch, or Blake's illustrations of Milton's Paradise Lost, and so on. But their interpretation seemed pale next to the male and female team, who also stereotyped head-on, yet succeeded. Thank heaven for Miles's repeated manipulations, his punch (but, no bloody knuckle?), and for Ryan's tar.

 

 

It was a close call between saying good-bye to Abdi, Nicole or Mark. At this stage the judges perhaps turned to previous works to make their final call, and we all had urged Mark to go a bit beyond the stereotype. Mark showed some vulnerability, but then, China cried. We hope he will enjoy a career as an artist - certainly his Photoshop skills, humor and quick reflexes can be honed and well-managed in a commercial art world. So, get out of the kitchen, Mark.

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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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