Jerry Saltz

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

on Oct 13, 2011

This year's bunch seems more savvy than the relative innocents of last season. The artists know the jargon this time around. Sara talks about "art that turns women into objects of consumption," and I'm back in art school. Bayeté claims that his conventional collage of a black face and a white face is about "deconstruction, identity, and race," and I'm back in 1994.

I try not to be too hard on the contestants, as I know that they have less than 48 hours to make something not of their choosing. They're caught saying dumb things (Dusty said he was "amazed at meeting important celebrities" when introduced to the winner of last season's show, Abdi); they're going on no sleep, under bizarre circumstances, with cameras constantly following them, even into bathrooms (I always wince when we see the girls putting on their bras in the morning). Yet I still found a lot not to like this week. Bayeté's collage "about race" displayed no insight into race at all — other than observing that America is still a mess in this department. Ugo's Keith Haring-lookalike red drawing was flashy wall décor. When Simon asks if he's heard of Keith Haring, Ugo says "There's room for ten Harings." ("Yes," I think silently. "Ten good Harings.") Sucklord's little wizard action figure — or as he snaps at contestant Kymia, "It's Gandalf! His sword is called Glamdring" — has no presence as art, no scale, touch, or imagination. I wanted him and it gone. Whereas I loved Michelle's paper sculpture, doubly so after she said "I haven't been this nervous since being tested for STDs." She won, and responded, "Super-duper."

Fate moves in mysterious ways under the glare of 75 lights, fifteen cameras, and people trying to pass gas silently so microphones don't pick it up. Sucklord admitted that he "didn't transform the piece into anything, and that maybe it's just bullshit and I have to learn from it." This saved him. Ugo went home; he was right when he said that his work was "sincere," but he didn't see that he had not yet made these gestures and style his own yet. (As Oscar Wilde said, "All bad poetry is sincere.") At home I sigh in recognition and muse about how slap-happy and earnest I've become about this show myself.