The Temptation of Simon

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

Art (and Defeat) in the Streets

Night Owl

All the Art That's Fit to Paint

Riddle of the Spanx

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

The Temptation of Simon

Simon just coudn't resist spray painting China's dress along with the artists.

The shooting of this episode took place at one of my favorite spots in New York. The view from there onto the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, and Manhattan is totally spectacular. The building, the facade of which the remaining eight contestants were asked to cover with pieces of street art, is filled with many artists' studios. I have always enjoyed my studio visits there, outside of the context of this competition, as both its position and view are so dramatic. You feel you are in a movie set of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. The noise level there is very high due to the trains that constantly go over the bridge. This is the reason why in this episode I had to scream even louder than I am already doing normally when addressing the contestants. I admire the sound technicians at Magical Elves and Pretty Matches who did miracles in producing an audible soundtrack for it. It certainly made any conversations with the four teams difficult, and I am not surprised to see that the crits took place back at the artists' studio.

The pairing of the eight artists into four teams was left entirely to fate, since it is the color inside of each spray can that determined who would work with whom. Seeing all artists being allowed to spray China Chow's beautiful white dress made me so envious that I simply could not resist the temptation of adding my own sprayed doodles onto it!
It is very interesting to see how from challenge to challenge the work of the contestants left in the race evolves, but also how the dynamics in the group change the more the competition advances. While I was marveling at the great spirit between the contestants after my van ride with them in the previous episode, watching this one, some tensions that I had been unaware of became apparent. Lola and Michelle were clearly having a lot of fun creating mischief and seemed quite detached, nonchalant and not particularly fixated on winning the challenge and the prize money of $30,000. It was a dangerous attitude to have, but they were lucky that the Sucklord and Sarah produced the weakest entry of the four teams.

The Sucklord was unable to extend his extraordinary streak of luck and was the casualty of this challenge. He went out with his head high and you could feel that all his opponents were actually sad to see him leave. I will miss him in the forthcoming episodes, and I could imagine that even some of the viewers who initially might have been irritated by him will miss him too. The verdict of the judges is naturally solely based on artistic merits. The dry humor and personality of the Sucklord has been one of the revelations of the first six episodes. He will now be able to return to producing the kind of art that made him successful in the particular segment of the art world that he had chosen for himself. I am sure he will benefit from his time on Work of Art. Coincidence paired the authors of the two best works from the fifth episode, Young and Dusty. The disappointment of Dusty of missing victory in the newspaper challenge by a whisker was palpable. This time he must have felt, “If you can't beat them, join them.” The pairing worked extremely well since they did a work that was powerful, profound and ideally adapted to street art. I am very happy for Dusty that he could secure the $15,000 portion of the victory premium. The contestants this year have an advantage over the ones of last year. There was no prize money to be won in some of the individual episodes back then. The one who by far is benefiting the most of the more generous incentives this season is Young, who has already won $35,000, a double page spread in Entertainment Weekly, and has one of his pieces displayed at the New York Times headquarters.

Sara and Kymia also produced a strong work for this episode. Their respective styles are not totally unrelated and the wall piece they made for this challenge about uprooting worked very well. The guest judge, Lee Quinones, one of the historical pioneers of street art, was well qualified to judge the works in this challenge.

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.”