Jerry Saltz

Jerry defends the show and laments how short he appears on TV.

on Oct 13, 2011

My fellow-judge Bill Powers rightfully calls the show Work of Art: The Next Great Grad School. We often spend 45 minutes reviewing a single piece. These crits are as intricate and intense as any I've been in at Yale or Columbia. On TV, however, you see just tiny snippets. If I were creating the show for myself, I'd make each episode three hours of crits, but TV is not grad school. (At least these artists don't leave the show $75,000 in debt.)

A word about these recaps: I don't see the shows far in advance. Bravo sends me a DVD of each episode the morning before it airs, so I have a little time to write and post that evening. When I get the final product, I usually want to write long explanations about what I meant to say, how this observation got cut, or that comment was taken out of context. I often feel my skin crawl. The rest of the time, I'm just stunned at how short I appear.

This week, I really liked that the show captured some of the anxiety, ridiculousness, and chaos of making art, as it introduced the fourteen contestants. It may surprise viewers to hear this, but we judges are told nothing about the artists' backstories or biographies. I learn that stuff only when I see the show — for instance, that Michelle (currently an assistant to the artist Marilyn Minter) was in a terrible hit-and-run accident months ago and has just relearned how to walk. We often hear complaints that certain artists have been cast for their looks, though I find, as an older person, that all of them look young and beautiful. Except the one who calls himself Sucklord. ("What kind of bulls--- name is this?" I thought when I met him. He claimed he's "like Warhol," and just as I began to wonder whether he'd been put on the set as a Bravo prank, the show's super-suave artist mentor, Simon de Pury, mentioned that he actually owns Sucklord's work.) Despite his stupid name, as the first episode developed, I started to feel a strange camaraderie for this fellow-non-looker who gets by on energy and attitude. Whereupon contestant Lola cooed that she "finds him kind of attractive." Argh. Youth trumps everything. F--- me.