Riddle of the Spanx

Tearing Up

The Drama's Done

An Alternate Universe


Tiny Coincidences

Portrait of an Artist

The Town

Main Street Meets Mean Street

The Secret

On Getting Naked and Hitting the Streets

Selling Out or Buying In?

A Difficult Choice

Do You Believe in Magic?

Elimination Heartbreak

Figure Eights and Fast Lanes

Art Girls (and Boys) Gone Wild!

Eye of the Tiger Penis

The Temptation of Simon

Art (and Defeat) in the Streets

Night Owl

All the Art That's Fit to Paint

The Gray Lady isn't Just for Men

Bangs, Toggle Sweaters, and Kids

The Fame

Child's Play

Kids' Stuff

How Could You?

Sex is in the Air

The Essence of the Competition

Pop Touched Me, Too

One Enchanted Evening

What's Poop Got to Do with It?

For Your Entertainment

Scat-Art-Logical Humor

When Simon Met Sucklord

It's Baaaa-aaaack!

Back to School

Isn't It Ironic?

Art History

The Final Crit

Riddle of the Spanx

Jerry shares his experience with Spanx.

Like all bad mysteries, this week’s episode begins on a cold, gray day. As the artists are being driven to New Jersey for their challenge, I think of Ahab’s words about Moby-Dick: “He tasks me.” I guess this makes China and Simon the artists’ white whales. Zonked, perhaps, by the Bravo house arrest under which they live, they peer out of the van, shell-shocked by the open spaces and real life going on around them. Some look punch-drunk; others, strung out. Bayeté and Michelle look like they’re planning a breakout. Sarah K. cackles (ah, mute alert, Bravo?!). Listening, I learn that some of the artists don’t like Lola. This takes me back. In the short bursts during which I saw the group during taping, Lola seemed moody and intense, and looked at people through her hair a lot, but she struck me as a canny, kind, sensitive soul whose circuits had been slightly singed from her mom’s dating Al Pacino for ten years while she was a kid. Onscreen, Sara calls Lola “crazy” and “childish.” Kymia says that she’s a “drama queen.” Maybe this is why Lola forlornly says she doesn’t want Sucklord to go home: “I see romantic potential there.” This pathos almost makes me renounce my vow to quit the show if the two of them hook up. Almost.

Since artist vulnerabilities are coming out, I’ll share one of my own. An hour before taping, I’m standing in my underpants in front of the show’s gorgeous twentysomething stylist, Zoe, thinking to myself, Drink in the macho, baby! Zoe quietly looks me over and says, “Um, Jerry. Do you like spanks?” Wow! The old male magic is still sizzling! I heard this generation is kinky! She wants to spank me! Here. In a reality TV dressing room! With the door partly open! Then she holds up a teeny-weenie doll-sized elastic undershirt thingy. “This is a Spanx,” she says. A girdle. My ego retracts, turtlehead-like. Ditto my genitals. Reality TV isn’t just making me look fat. The free food I’ve been grazing on for weeks is showing! I ask Zoe if this garment is “a fat repressor.” Carefully not using terms like “muffin top” or “s’more,” she says, “Spanx are trimming.” I wedge myself into it. I had no idea what kind of constricting strangulation goes on under some women’s clothes.

This week’s challenge is issued to the artists amid the amazing automated New Jersey plant of the New York Times. The artists are to pick a headline from a mountain of newspapers and make a work of art incorporating the newspaper and the story. Michelle looks around at the whirring conveyor belts and papers whizzing around, observing, “Your newspaper has so much fun before it gets to you!” So far Michelle has consistently made great work. When she doesn’t I still see in her considerable talent and the mystical spirit of a true artist. This week she chooses a powerfully personal story: Accident victims unable to prove they’ve been in accidents. This happened to Michelle when she was struck last year by a hit-and-run driver while riding her bicycle in Brooklyn. Although she was severely injured and her legs were disfigured, and she still walks with a limp, the law hasn’t yet acted. Her painting this week of scarred legs makes me quake. As does Lola’s inspired piece. Even if she’s impossible, I see in her work an original struggle to square internal tension with the real world. I am taken by her drawing of Libyan rebels with observations and words scrawled in the landscape. Lola has invented an economical way to occupy the extraordinarily uncanny space between photography, the news, drawing, and thinking. Adam McEwen, our articulate guest judge this week, is also taken by her work and agrees that her drawing would stand up in any Chelsea gallery.

This is the second week in a row I’m put off by something emotionally impervious about Sara J., who reasons, “I’m a Cancer, and Cancers are emotional.” Young puts a truer spin on this, saying his mother has cancer, and if his spot-on piece about Chinese dissonant artist Ai Weiwei wins the $20,000 that comes with tonight’s challenge he’ll buy a headstone for his recently deceased father. Wait. Did someone say $20,000 reward for winning one week’s challenge?! As Michelle observes, “I don’t think anyone in this room has ever had $20,000 in their bank account.” (Watching at home, I think, “That goes for anyone in this room as well.”) But I’m thrilled that one of these artists may get something for his or her effort. Any of the three artists selected for the negative crits could have been sent home this week. Maybe all three. Sucklord says, “I can’t phone in another turkey or I’m finished.” The piece of poultry Mr. Lord delivers this time, like the one he turned in last week, starts magically. He fashions an oversize wooden newspaper with rectangles cut out to show an oil spill. It perfectly captures the way the news about the BP oil spill just kept oozing out of the media. Of course, the risk-averse non-artist in Sucklord scraps this potential winner for an idiotic pile of wooden dollar bills that he wraps in, I kid you not, the New York Times because, as he reasons, the Times is somehow complicit in the oil spill. I imagine 55 conspiracy theorists in our audience perking up, and hundreds of thousands of other viewers vowing to quit the show if Lola hooks up with Sucklord.

Also in the bottom three is Sarah K., who’s never had a crit before. As is also true in art school, this can mean one of two things. She’s so good that she hasn’t needed any guidance. Or, as in this case, as the cast gets smaller, her flaws are becoming more noticeable. One teeny text-collage fragment within her work had psychic-visual compression and density. She added so many other elements that the piece just came off as busy hands guided by a buzzing mind. A dangerous combination.
Bayeté was sent home because his golden double-door hanging sculpture fell flat as an object, an idea, or anything other than store display. I imagine that in Bayeté’s true artist’s heart — and he is a true artist — the exhaustion I think I saw in him back in the van finally caught up with him. I suspect he’d even admit that this week he lapsed.

And so did I. Young won with his timely, well-made painted newspapers asking “Where Is Ai Weiwei?” But Lola’s text drawing was an original incursion into the secret domain of art where material and meaning mingle to make new things. How we were able to pick a winner between these two outstanding pieces remains a riddle of the Spanx.


Simon was blown away by the brilliance of Kymia's drawings.

While the finale was the episode that I enjoyed watching most, it was also by far the one that was most fun shooting.

First of all it was such a pleasure to visit Young, Kymia, and Sara in their respective homes and to get to meet their loved ones. Driving around Chicago on a sunny day in a convertible Fiat 500 with very loud music was not too bad either.

The finale is the only episode where the contestants have plenty of time to prepare their exhibitions and have no thematic constraints of any kind. They can do their work in their own studios, are not being filmed 24/7, and are not sleep deprived.

The lack of all that pressure is not necessarily an advantage. So often in life we achieve so much more with stringent deadlines than when we think we have all the time in the world on our side. 

I wanted the finalists to do their best work ever for the finale. My visits to their homes and studios took place after already about two thirds of the time at their disposal had elapsed. I had high expectations since Young, Kymia, and Sara had all already demonstrated their talent during the competition so far. What I initially saw in each of their studios did not measure up with these expectations. This explains why I was possibly the bluntest with the artists that I had been during the whole competition.

Young was always the one who knew right from the start most precisely what he wanted to do and was very good articulating it. While, like everything he does, what he showed me in Chicago was fully thought through and extremely well executed, what he was planning for the finale was not exactly conveying much emotion. It was in total contrast to the shrine he had erected in his studio as homage to his late father. That piece was extremely moving without being sentimental and was very powerful. Seeing it made me encourage Young to fully explore the vein of that particular work. When I saw his exhibition fully installed, I was highly impressed by what he pulled together. He did an even more moving shrine for his father that was my favorite piece in the sophisticated installation he created for the finale. It was evident that it was speaking to the viewers in the gallery, and it was touching to see how China and KAWS reacted to it. Young is not only a gifted and intelligent artist, but he also demonstrated how elegant and gracious he is by the way he reacted when Kymia was declared the winner. 

Sara had built real momentum towards the end of the competition. For the finale she grew beyond herself and put together a remarkable show that, contrary to was observed during the critique, made to me a very coherent impression. At the time of my visit her intentions were still all over the place, and there was little coherence between the very large caricature works on paper and the sculptures. She replaced the works on paper that I had seen in her studio with new, very good ones. On top of that she did some new beautiful and poetic works such as the open birdcage with a flock of origami birds flying out of it, the more disturbing but equally strong lingerie done in human hair, and the imprints of the body glued to the wall. She could have chosen the safe track of doing a show mostly in her signature style that she had used in her self-portrait and in Episode 1. Instead she explored new ways of working which paid off in a very strong show for the finale. Like Young, she was very elegant in her reactions to Kymia's victory.

Kymia at various moments during the earlier parts of this competition had shown us flashes of her immense talent. I liked the way she transformed the sculpture she had chosen in Episode 1 for the so called kitsch art challenge. The work she did for the Pop challenge got her a second place right behind Young. The coffin she did with hands and feet sticking out for the newspaper challenge was good, but it was the drawing that brought her victory in the children's challenge that enchanted me. It is an outstanding drawing by any standard. Ever since seeing that drawing, I was secretly hoping Kymia would do more works of equal brilliance. I was trembling for her, since as opposed to Lola or Sara her momentum seemed to slow down a bit. There was the “key to the universe” in the car challenge that had malfunctioned and the “exchange of signatures” that while it sufficiently impressed the judges clearly had very little commercial appeal in the street vendors challenge. I did not particularly like the portrait she did of the couple of antique dealers in Cold Spring. Luckily for her I seem to be alone in that case, since that work allowed her to snatch victory in the penultimate challenge. 

When I visited Kymia's studio I was struck by the beauty of one large drawing. I was thrilled, because finally I was seeing again the type of quality that made me admire so much the drawing from the children's challenge. Turning round in the studio I saw two smallish sculptures that not only had none of the quality of the large drawing but were so unimpressive (I used stronger language on camera) that it was hard to imagine that it was the same person who had done them. Seeing Kymia's reaction to my blunt comments, I was worried that instead of motivating her by shaking her up, I had actually totally discouraged her. I advised her to try and do several large scale works in the manner of the works that I admired. She questioned whether she still had enough time to do them before the final exhibition. Not only was I very much relieved when I walked into her exhibition at the gallery; I was blown away by the quality of several of the large drawings she had done and in particular with the one of the boat with the shadow of the legs on its sail. That work to me is the very best work produced by any contestant during Season 2 of Work of Art. Kymia pulls off the feat of walking that very thin line of creating an exceptional work when it so easily could have looked corny and overly sentimental. I do hope that many viewers of the show will make the effort of going to the Brooklyn Museum of Art to see Kymia's exhibition. It is difficult to fully appreciate on television her gorgeous technique. While her drawings look impressive from afar, it is a pleasure to examine their texture and strokes close up. Kymia's technique is unique and reminiscent of her Iranian cultural heritage.

Death was the predominant theme of the three strong shows the finalists put together for the finale. Kymia, Young, and Sara each dealt with it in totally different ways. Each can be proud of what they did and how they ended the competition. 

It was great having KAWS as a guest judge for the finale. I was an admirer of his work early on and am thrilled to see how he goes from success to success. Artists themselves always bring a unique perspective to the judging of the works, and the guest judges form the ideal complement to the outstanding roster of permanent judges China Chow, Jerry Saltz, and Bill Powers.

The most gratifying thing for me personally in participating in Work of Art this season was working with the artists, host, judges, guest judges, executive producers, producers, technicians, cameramen, sound engineers, make-up artists, etc. It was fun, inspiring, and invigorating.