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.

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An Alternate Universe

Bill loved that Kymia's exhibit brought viewers to a new world.

I remember last year questioning why rock stars receive standing ovations. Athletes, ballet dancers, and actors, too, but where is the applause for artists? Now I know this might sound hypocritical coming from a guy who told Sucklord that Mr. Brainwash after a lobotomy would have made more compelling street art, but I really do mean it. I could never withstand the pressure cooker these artists subjected themselves to by participating on Work of Art, and I commend each of them on their bravery. 

I told Young during the finale crits that his installation reminded me how we all live three lives: our public life, our private life, and our secret life. His projected biography interweaving Korean family traditions with his first generation experience as a proud gay man was about as all American as it gets. Seeing him pay tribute to his late father echoed a famous quote from Ayn Rand about our mortality when she said, "It's not I who shall die, but the world which will end." Now that I think about it, the same sentiment probably applies to reality TV competitions. In Young's case, he mined his father's death for all the material he could get, and it rang out as personal, political, and (like Kymia's show) semi-mythological. It's a tough tightrope to tread on the path to universal appeal and the abyss of the generic is a bottomless pit. 

Sara hinted at some of her personal struggles with the mattress full of hypodermic needles of which KAWS remarked, "It kind of makes bedbugs seem inviting." She also constructed a barrier of handwritten fears hung on a makeshift clothesline blocking your entrance into her show, a limbo stick of self-doubt every gallery viewer was forced to overcome. I had hoped Sara would embrace her mesmerizing approach to watercolors, which garnered so much attention during the season from her very first gallery show of the woman being slow-roasted to the sellout challenge where her portraits did gangbusters. In my head I envisioned Sarah painting massive canvases highlighting her signature style. 

When Kymia followed that impulse for her finale show, look at the results. Wow! Aliens, twins, ancient Egyptians -- Kymia created a whole alternate universe with its own unknowable history. I urge everyone to go check out her exhibition in person when it opens at The Brooklyn Museum. How cool that her work will be hanging in the same building as Eva Hesse and Alice Neel.

As for Season 3? We will have to see if our Work of Art worked for Bravo. Otherwise I hope we might be remembered as the Arrested Development of reality TV. I'll miss you guys!


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