Back to School

Simon felt like he was coming back from summer vacation for the filming of Season 2.

It was a wonderful and at the same time also slightly odd feeling to get back to filming for Season 2 of Work of Art. I was very happy to see my colleagues again from Season 1. China Chow was as radiant as ever and is an outstanding host. She oozes charm and is an artist magnet in real life. She is totally implicated in the show and takes the elimination of every artist very much to heart. Jerry Saltz is at the top of his form for this new season. His sharp judgment is both feared and respected by the contestants. Bill Powers conveys his passion for contemporary art and has a killer sound bite for every situation. I do very much miss Jeanne Greenberg this season, but I do look forward seeing her as a guest judge in future episodes. It also is a pleasure to work again with the highly professional teams of Magical Elves and Pretty Matches. As I do have a fairly busy life in between, I feel it is like centuries ago that we were filming Season 1. So I felt a little bit like coming back to school after a very long summer break.

Most of all I was very curious to meet the fourteen contestants. A little while had passed since I had seen them amongst nearly 1,200 artists for a very brief moment at the time of the initial castings in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. First I saw the self-portraits they had prepared for the occasion, and then I saw them appear all at once while I was waiting to welcome them with China at the "world famous" Brooklyn Museum of Art. A good overall energy was instantly palpable.

I was happy to see that the Sucklord had made it into the final fourteen. I suffer acutely from the collecting disease, and one of the many areas I am interested in is toy art. I had come across his work some time back and had acquired some of his pieces. I also have had some of his pieces under my gavel. I am particularly fond of his Darth Vader acting as a DJ at the turntables with a pile of miniature vinyls at his feet. I admire him for getting out of his comfort zone and participating in this competition where he clearly will have to demonstrate some versatility if he wants to succeed. He was in the bottom three of this first challenge, but I actually do like the work he had done for it, even though it is a fairly literal transformation of a very "schlocky" two dimensional work to an equally "schlocky" three dimensional work.

Already at the casting stage I asked Ugo if his work was not too close in style to Keith Haring. With his immense charm and a healthy dose of self-confidence, he brushed aside that concern. When he produced for the challenge a work, admittedly well executed, which looked like a pastiche of Keith Haring, I had to ask him that same question again. I was not surprised to see that it was a concern for the judges as well. Ugo has a great way about him, and I am certain his charm will serve him well in whatever he will do going forward.

I loved the video that Bayete had done for the casting of the two Bayetes debating with each other whether they should participate in the competition. He picked possibly the "schlockiest'" object amongst all the "schlock" the contestants had to choose from. When I visited him during my first studio visit, I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of the additional head while also worried he might just add too much and make it too busy. That worry sadly came true when I saw his final work in the exhibition. It demonstrates every artist's dilemma , whether fine or merely mediocre, to know when to stop a work.

Kymia took a very anodyne looking object and transformed it into a fairly spooky but most intriguing looking object. With each challenge I try to ask myself which of all the works I would possibly wish to own if I was offered the chance. I did this little game when my children were small and I was taking them to museums. Having to pick one work really forced them to think which was their favorite and taught them how to look. With this challenge Kymia's "reworked" sculpture would be the one I would choose. It is a little bit like a bad song that was remixed and or reinterpreted into a much better one.

Sarah's watercolor was very consistent with the type of work she had shown during the initial casting. She used the sculpture that she picked as inspiration for a good work in her own very personal signature style. The combination between the gruesome subject matter and the somewhat naïve and child like drawing and coloring makes it quite powerful.

Lola is a fascinating character. While all thirteen candidates nearly fell over each other to grab the work they had chosen, Lola seemed totally lost and unable to choose between two equally poor pieces of bad art. When I visited her during my studio visit I was even more worried for her. Her desk was surrounded by a number of attempts that looked weak at best. When I went to see the exhibition I was very pleasantly surprised how she transformed a pretty awful object into something very poetic, mysterious, and appealing. Her making it into the top three of this challenge demonstrates that in this competition it is the finishing line that counts. You maybe way back in the field early on and still make it to the top if you get your act together in time for the exhibition.

While watching this episode I learned of Michelle's horrendous accident and her brush with death. It makes her work for this challenge all the more meaningful and powerful. She managed to imbue the fairly ordinary looking totem with some beauty and very ably combine it with rest of her work that she did in her impressive signature style paper sculpture technique. She clearly deserved to win this first challenge.

The nine other artists who were not singled out in this episode all produced interesting work, so it is extremely difficult at this stage to say who the front runners are going to be in this exciting and wide open competition.

Very best,

Simon

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!