The Essence of the Competition

Simon takes every elimination to heart, so the double elimination this week was especially tough.

It was a great pleasure for me to have the contestants come to our downtown space at the beginning of this episode. It reminded me of the mini retrospective of Andres Serrano that we had installed for the shock art contest during Season 1.

Judging from the artists' reaction when China Chow described the challenge, this is one they felt clearly more at ease with than the one from last week. This impression got confirmed on my studio visit. Most artists were already quite advanced with their works.
Young had immediately articulated his concept and was already quite far down the road. He created a visually striking work, one that demanded the viewers' participation. It definitely was pop, not a rehashed version of '60s pop but very much a 21st century version of pop. It was also evident right then that this work would lend itself very well for publication in Entertainment Weekly. An amazing chance for any artist. One that did not escape the Sucklord judging from his comments on camera. His work was equally pop, full of his trademark humor, and would have merited being part of the top three, if the best three works had been singled out by the judges.

Kymia also produced a strong work. I admire her for her risk taking. Having never worked with photography before, it was a bold move to use that technique. Deciding to bare it all might have cost her the chance of having her work highlighted in Entertainment Weekly. I am glad she followed my advice when I answered her question (not included in the episode) whether to have the two neon tubes on top of the photograph or behind it.

Now to the bottom four: Dusty's work got a number of very favorable reactions from the visitors to the gallery show. His work was thought provoking and impeccably executed. Maybe it was not pop enough?
I am sad to see Jazz-Minh leave the show. She is a talented painter with an attractive personality. I am also sad to see Leon leave. He has a radiant and warm smile, and it was inspiring to communicate with him. His achievement to have made it onto the show is remarkable. His works in challenges one and two show great promise.
Now for Michelle. After having been at the near top of the pack in the first two episodes, I was surprised to see that she chose to ignore both my mentoring thoughts and her colleagues' suggestions that her work was too evocative of Warhol and of '60s pop. On the other hand each artist has to follow his or her own guts, so I admire her for it. While it was a banal idea, it was well executed.

Watching the Sucklord play the great seducer on the set made me smile and clearly added to the fun of watching this episode.

It is the essence of this competition to have at least one elimination every week, and I surprise myself at how personally I take every single one. In the same way I am proud of the artists who best tackle the respective challenges and manage to do it while impressing the outstanding roster of host and judges.

The Drama's Done

Jerry gives his thoughts on the final three exhibits.

“Then all collapsed,” goes the last passage of Moby-Dick, “and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.” Work of Art ended last night, although without sublime terror. Its end brought three good shows by three good artists, any one of whom could have won, all three of whom could have real careers (ditto the recent losers Lola and Michelle; Sucklord, get thee to Mordor). The three finalists, plus with my overall feelings about the program this season, tell me that a sea change took place on our show this season, in public and private. Last year, waves of hatred predicted the collapse of the art world and the destruction of art by television; this year unfurled in its own spreading shroud. A bit like art itself: sometimes capturing attention, mostly gliding slowly by.

This year’s Work of Art was less sideshow, more grad school. I suspect that it made for less entertaining TV, though the artists were better and, unlike last year’s, had a sense of how it would go. Each found ways of making personal work in the midst of one of the most impersonal situations any will ever face. As for me: I tried to be clearer in my criticism, weighed fifteen pounds more than last season, marveled as Bill Powers blossomed into an excellent judge, crushed on China Chow, gasped at Simon de Pury’s charisma. I stood in front of a dozen cute stylists. I saw my bald head powdered with makeup. I wore white Spanx that broke my dark heart. It’s a hard … it’s a hard … Wait. Sorry.

About the finalists: Just as last year’s winner, Abdi, should have been given a grant to a good grad school (with the win going instead to the true artist, Peregrine Honig), the excellent artists Lola and Michelle didn’t make it. Sara, who did make the final three, surprised me. After starting off making nice watercolors, she lapsed into cliché and confusion. Although her personality feels oddly absent (both in the flesh and in her work), she got in touch with her inner performance artist, the sculptor within, and excelled with materials. I’m told that Sara is in grad school now, and it should give her a chance to develop her talents. She didn’t win on this night, when much of her show dealt with secret lives and mutant creatures. Once she escapes generic symbolism (like the hypodermic needles she stuck in an old mattress) and ersatz surrealism (origami birds flying from a cage), her work, I imagine, will stand up in the real art world. Congratulations, Sara.

Young’s work rattles with repressed emotion and cerebral acuity. Sharp as a tack about art, the most articulate contestant ever on this show, he became adept at merging the social, the personal, and the material. His show dealt with life, loss, longing, the death of his father, and the cancer of his mother — a lot to take on at once. Thus, it lost emotional momentum. I fancy that Young’s losing a TV game show about art might make his eventual art career easier (though the $100,000 might’ve helped, too). He should move to New York, find a dive in Bushwick, have his New York nervous breakdown, and join a promising next wave of talented people.

Kymia took the prize based on her drawing skills. The surfaces of her drawings didn’t come across on TV, but they were covered in pebble-like flecks, pooled paint, sedimentary minerals, and other original marking techniques. Replete with circumspect touch and fine line and nicely scaled, they had physical presence and psychic gravitas. I was most taken with her rendition of a ship, a sort of psychic raft from the underworld drifting on Melville’s rolling ocean. The shadow of two legs on the sails was hokey, but I wasn’t bothered by this lapse into bathos. Her outing showed an artist following her vision to wherever it led her.

Which is what this show was for me. It already feels far away. My wife has still never watched a minute of Work of Art, though she loves that I did it. So do I. I’m not sure why this is, and would love artists to tell me if there’s an equivalent in their process, but for me Work of Art was all about the before and the after. The show itself was never the thing. It was about getting out of my office; learning how TV is made; being around artists trying as hard as they could; being a part of a mass of people, cameras, lights, and sound equipment functioning as an organism; confronting my fear of celebrities when the show’s executive producer, Sarah Jessica Parker, was a guest judge; being ogled by stylist girls while standing in my underpants. I loved making the show, trying to bring art to a wide audience, writing about it, and the tens of thousands of conversations it generated via my recaps, Facebook posts, tweets, and random street-corner conversations. I dug the shock of someone saying to me in my building’s elevator, “Hey! You’re that mean art-critic judge on TV.” All this experience enriched me, my life, my work, and my stomach.

But the televised show itself? I missed watching four episodes this year — twice I forgot it was on, and twice I had the wrong time. That’s how curious all this has been for me. Right now I feel at peace with my TV god; I’ve gotten everything I wanted. Now it is done. As I am a confessed inner hysteric, allow me a final act of exaggeration, as I end this strange, strange voyage into art criticism on television with the epilogue of Moby-Dick: “The drama's done ... one did survive the wreck ... I was he whom the Fates ordained ... I floated on a soft and dirge-like main. The unharming sharks ... glided by ... I was picked up at last ... another orphan ... I alone am escaped to tell thee.”