A Difficult Choice

Simon didn't envy the judges this week.

To console anyone in these sad post-Sucklord times of Work of Art, I can highly recommend the brilliant toy 'Jerk of Art' that he produced after his elimination from the show. I am most grateful to China Chow who brought it to my attention, and I of course instantly had to add it to my collection!

The floor of the gallery looked stunning at the beginning of this challenge with all the parts that constitute the Fiat 500 neatly laid out. The original Cinquecento and its very cool 21st century version were also on display and producers, artists, host, and mentor all took turns to sit behind its wheel. It was intriguing to observe which pieces were chosen by which contenders. Dusty is the one who instantly went after the parts that I would have chosen: the steering wheel and the wheels and tires.

During my studio visit, which as always happened quite early after the artists had settled back in the studio, I could not help but express my slight disappointment that Dusty was not using them for one of the works on a fairly grand scale he had accustomed us to so far in this competition. Based on this reaction he chose to start from scratch and do a piece using the tires of the car that had great presence in the gallery. It did not land him in the top two this time, but got him safely to the next episode. Michelle was the first artist I started my studio visit with. Seeing no parts of the cars being used at this stage but mostly balloons arranged in a fun way prompted me to comment that it looked more like a work in answer to the children's challenge. When I saw the exhibition I was sad to see that she had started from scratch to produce a work that was clearly less good than what she was initially working on. It is only watching the episode that I realized she had also been working on the steamy windows of the car. That work showed true promise, and I was even sadder that she did not select that work for the gallery show. During the POP challenge she had chosen to ignore my comments that her idea with the Coke can was not very original. She went with it nevertheless, but it did land her in the bottom group. Maybe it is that experience that made her less sure of herself this time. So when Young told her to go with the 'Herbie' project, she followed his advice. Sarah Kabot's work was already well advanced by the time of my studio visit. She felt very much at ease with this particular challenge given the fact that her father had been in the car business. As we all know, judging art is a highly subjective thing. When my adult children were small, I would ask them after every museum visit to buy three postcards. Having to make that choice forced them to look at exhibitions with a particular attention. As a collector and professional in the art market, I cannot help entering any room and not instantly making a choice in my head of which work I would like to acquire for myself. Of all the works done by the artists for this challenge, it is without hesitation Sarah's work that I would have picked. I was happy to see that it earned her a spot in the top two even if not the victory.

Sara Jimenez also produced a very poetic and successful work, which not only got her the victory in this challenge but also the $25k prize money. I am so happy for her since she is the artist that took by far the greatest risk by venturing way out of her comfort zone and very far from the watercolors she had accustomed us to.

Another artist who took a big risk was Kymia. Her idea to just take the car's key and pulverize it was bold, but in her case it was a risk that could have seriously backfired. When I saw the exhibition and realized that her box had malfunctioned and that you could not see anything when looking into it, I thought that this was it for Kymia. I was very sad about it as I considered the work that got her the victory in the children's challenge -- an outstanding work of art by any standard and by very far the best work produced by any contender in this season of the competition so far. I guess that it must be considerations of this kind that may have swayed the judges to keep her in and saved her.I can very much sympathize with China Chow, Jerry Saltz, and Bill Powers regarding the extremely difficult choice they were faced with when having to decide which artist from the bottom three would have to leave. Not having been part of the deliberations, I am not in a position to judge fairly, but for the very first time I disagreed with their choice of who would have to leave. I was relieved that Kymia was saved, but surprised that Michelle was the one asked to pack her things and that Lola was the one making it to the next round. I am sad about each elimination, but particularly with Michelle's as the quality of her work already at the time of the initial casting for the show had impressed me. I am also sad that my comments prompted her to do one better work and one much worse, which ultimately did her in. Luck was on Lola's side and helped her to make it to the next challenge. Just as it is people in any profession, luck is also an essential ingredient in any artist's career.

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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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