Competing with Nature

Jeanne talks about the Survivor-style challenge, critiques Peregrine's sculpture, and explores Miles's art-making process.

It's hard to compete with nature.

The image of a chicly caped China presenting the challenge before a bleary-eyed, yet expectant crew of five had the aura of a Survivor episode (although I have never seen one, but I am imagining.) At the edge of the woods, each artist stood ready for combat, that is until they learned that they had to incorporate an element of the wood in their work. Among the finalists, Nicole was seemingly the only one poised to survive.

Nicole, our hunter and gatherer, attacked the challenge from the positive. Most comfortable in nature, she happily collected her seeds and nuts, her molds came out "perfect," and she was confident with her modest sculpture. While attracted to her sunny side, I yearned for more content. Her Native American ancestry was of interest to us all, yet there was very little to grasp through her mound entitled, "Mic Mac." When put on the spot, she filled in with scant family narrative. While her breadth of material and process guided her well, I was waiting for a stronger voice.

If Nicole's illuminated ball within its dwelling gave off little energy, so did Jaclyn's rock. I'm embarrassed remarking about its inner beauty. Meant as a Duchampian comment, it aired as hippy-dippy stupid. We are asked by the producers to come up with positive comments alongside our negative ones, and often it's a stretch, yet gets played. (Thank you Jerry for commenting in his Culture Vulture blog that I have not been "getting a fair shake in the editing.")

I was irritated that the other artists did not support Jaclyn's "off hours" photograph. Were they really threatened, or just being petty? Peregrine's smirk struck me as haughty and mean-spirited. Why not break some pact? I am sure all the artists spent time thinking about their work at night - how far away is this from snapping a photo? Ah, to draw a line. But, then again, Jaclyn might have recreated the photo in the studio.



We had a much more vital conversation with Peregrine's sculpture, described as a "girl mother-nature," than shown. To me, the sculpture was both Daphne, the nymph who changed into a tree in order to escape a pursuing Apollo, and a self-portrait of Peregrine in stance and posture. We discussed the work feeling unfinished, functioning as a maquette. We could imagine it better in bronze, or another material even. The work as a site of teenage sex and drugs seemed less than personal, placing Peregrine as a voyeur. There was no denying that it had another life, and that it was the seed to something much bigger, and Jerry was clear in wanting more.

On the show I say that Miles's work is without humor. Yet, behind the scenes he projects a sinister wit. His obsession with poisonous or dangerous materials pops up episode after episode, and his hole poking contraption was, in retrospect, rather absurd. I stand corrected, his humor is hidden behind a dry practice. Miles starts with a kernel of an idea, and then grows it out. This additive approach can be limiting if the starting idea, in this case the parasitic fungus, is all you have. Especially given his self-described incapacity to go beyond a set system. Hoping he breaks out of his mold (ha, ha).

The blogs are filled with harsh comments about Miles, and disappointment that we are so taken with him. I do enjoy watching a sly Miles at play and his small manipulations. But, this is not charm school. Our judgments are based on the final works, and on occasion, when faced with a draw, we do revisit the crits.

Now onto the winning work by Abdi. I admit to being worried that in my absence he might be kicked off, and was glad Bill heard my whisper from afar.

Unlike the others, Abdi took his time to meditate in nature. We have seen him run around here and there, and this time he was steered by a quiet calm. Even in his Jockeys, his drawing maintained a regal quality. His look to God comment made sense when he described his processional self-portrait as a Baptism. I am glad he redeemed himself. Hopefully he will freshen up on Plato and Socrates, while keeping his God in tow for the finale.

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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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