Kick-Off Time!

From Miles' macabre portrait of Nao to Amanda's decorative portrait of Jaime Lynn, Jeanne offers her critique of this week's portraits.


OK, so I have never been on TV or written a blog, and I am not even on Facebook (joining might mean being a jettisoned into Jerry's 5,000 friend world, where I might stay). I am lucky to get through my emails in a day...

By way of introduction, I own a gallery and run an art advisory service, spending my days looking at artwork. I do this for a living, mostly in private. My pleasure is talking to artists both in and out of their studios. On this show our conversations, for the sake of good TV, are whittled down into small bites (ugh). Jerry, Bill, China and our guest judges continued much of this dialogue even off the set. And, Simon waited in the judges lounge (his mobile office) to gab enthusiastically about the works, post viewings. We often joke that he has a half vote. As judges we are never invited into the studios, and have little contact with the artists, other than during the critiques.

In the process of getting to know Bravo, I have admittedly become a bit of a TV nut. Something is in the air when Friday Night Lights’ own cerebral quarterback, Matt Saracen, turned out to be a promising artist (his portfolio got him into the Art Institute of Chicago). Kick-off time:

Judith's Proud Pussy painting, a wordplay portrait of Jaclyn, was razor sharp and among the few conceptual works presented. While it dated itself a bit, I am sorry that this painting did not make the cut for the final round. Judith shows super power energy, and will be one to watch.

Nao's verbal assaults are edited to perfection. She comes to the show as one of the more established and practiced artists. Her medium, however, is video and performance, the former not permitted on the show. Rather than putting so much labor into the elaborate ink drawing, she might have fared better going on instinct. Nao's brand of body politics alongside Judith's 90s conceptualism might together need an update. But both Nao and Judith have a strong image bank from which to cull and translate into something new.

Ryan has presented himself as a Caravaggio-like character from a made-for-TV miniseries. So he is perfectly cast here. But a painter who aspires towards the masters becomes better with time, the skills taking years and years to refine. In John Currin and Elizabeth Peyton (two great contemporary portrait painters) we have seen a revival of realist style that merges old master with hack commercial portraiture. And while we look for a fusion of the esteemed past with the vulgar present, does Ryan have the conceptual rigor and cleverness to pull it off? This competition will test his ability to react quickly both with his brush and mind.



Did you happen to notice that the stripped background of Ryan's Abdi portrait was lifted from the studio walls? One does note how the space around the sitter is defined. But fidelity is not requisite. I would have liked to see a bit of embellishment - Ryan highlighting and a bit more of Abdi's playful persona.

When initially viewing Erik's clown painting on the easel in the galleries, I asked Michael, our uber cool hat-wearing on-site Producer, if I could take it off and hang it on the wall. Art needs a lot of help. A white wall is ideal for looking at a painting, even an amateur one. Michael responded that the artist had made this choice of presentation, so the easel must stay. Upon asking Erik what he was thinking with this easel, he said that it was Trong's idea to keep the painting on the pedestal. After a few harsh words, Erik's first lesson was learned - do not allow a fellow contestant to make such crucial decisions.

Erik spent a lot of time saying he was untrained, otherwise known as an "outsider artist." But in today's world, where images are so accessible on the web and Museums are found in most cities (or within driving distance), this excuse will not fly with any of us.

Abdi's painting of Ryan certainly lit up the TV screen, but it was Miles macabre portrait of Nao that was the most beautiful in person. The work gave off the aura of stopped time. It is not easy to capture this slippage from life to death, from natural to synthetic with such grace.

Lastly, I was really sorry to see Amanda be the first to go. I was excited to see her work after I heard her sing on her audition tape (she was complaining that music was not allowed in the studios - and I quite agree). There are challenges in the future where she would have certainly excelled. But if the portraiture's main goal is to represent a recognizable person, then her decorative portrait of Jaime Lynn was hopeless.

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.”