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.

An Alternate Universe

Bill loved that Kymia's exhibit brought viewers to a new world.

I remember last year questioning why rock stars receive standing ovations. Athletes, ballet dancers, and actors, too, but where is the applause for artists? Now I know this might sound hypocritical coming from a guy who told Sucklord that Mr. Brainwash after a lobotomy would have made more compelling street art, but I really do mean it. I could never withstand the pressure cooker these artists subjected themselves to by participating on Work of Art, and I commend each of them on their bravery. 

I told Young during the finale crits that his installation reminded me how we all live three lives: our public life, our private life, and our secret life. His projected biography interweaving Korean family traditions with his first generation experience as a proud gay man was about as all American as it gets. Seeing him pay tribute to his late father echoed a famous quote from Ayn Rand about our mortality when she said, "It's not I who shall die, but the world which will end." Now that I think about it, the same sentiment probably applies to reality TV competitions. In Young's case, he mined his father's death for all the material he could get, and it rang out as personal, political, and (like Kymia's show) semi-mythological. It's a tough tightrope to tread on the path to universal appeal and the abyss of the generic is a bottomless pit. 

Sara hinted at some of her personal struggles with the mattress full of hypodermic needles of which KAWS remarked, "It kind of makes bedbugs seem inviting." She also constructed a barrier of handwritten fears hung on a makeshift clothesline blocking your entrance into her show, a limbo stick of self-doubt every gallery viewer was forced to overcome. I had hoped Sara would embrace her mesmerizing approach to watercolors, which garnered so much attention during the season from her very first gallery show of the woman being slow-roasted to the sellout challenge where her portraits did gangbusters. In my head I envisioned Sarah painting massive canvases highlighting her signature style. 

When Kymia followed that impulse for her finale show, look at the results. Wow! Aliens, twins, ancient Egyptians -- Kymia created a whole alternate universe with its own unknowable history. I urge everyone to go check out her exhibition in person when it opens at The Brooklyn Museum. How cool that her work will be hanging in the same building as Eva Hesse and Alice Neel.

As for Season 3? We will have to see if our Work of Art worked for Bravo. Otherwise I hope we might be remembered as the Arrested Development of reality TV. I'll miss you guys!