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Producing Great Work

Simon de Pury discusses the joys and obstacles of his role as coach, cheerleader, friend and guide.


As a person that is totally and equally obsessed by art and music, I was always bored to tears by any art related TV coverage! On the other hand, 'old' MTV, Jools Holland, YouTube and TV live music coverage always gave me plenty of ways to follow up on my musical urges on the box. So when I heard that Bravo was planing an art related reality TV competition I was thrilled.

I first met the contestants amongst the nearly 1200 artists that applied in the casting calls in Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and New York. It was great to see them again at the filming of the first episode. What struck me most was how thrilled all of the contestants were to be part of this adventure and the positive energy they exuded as a group.

The key like with any portrait is to convey much more than a good likeness. You want to capture the essence of the sitter's personality and possibly also show it's 'hidden' parts. Present the whole thing in as artistic a language as possible. Besides being aesthetically intriguing, you want the portrait to convey emotion.

When walking around I was instantly struck by the portrait Abdi did of his competitor Ryan. First of all, it could have been an amazing album cover for the next Oasis album (if they were still together), as Ryan looked so much like Liam Gallagher!

Abdi's use of wild 'fauve' colors was striking and the size of the portrait gave it massive wall power. I was equally impressed by the resourcefulness of Miles. The way he installed a tent and organized himself to do the screen printing was truly impressive. I was sad to see that Amanda was already asked to leave the show. I remembered her fondly from the casting and very much liked the fact that she had an architectural background. Besides which she has warm, positive energy.


As a mentor you are like a coach, a cheerleader, friend and guide all at the same time. You want every contestant to be optimally prepared and be at their best when they face the judges.

Overall most of the artists were too literal in their approach to making a portrait, however most of the artists were technically very skillful. Mastering a technique in itself does not yet necessarily make you produce a great work of art.

Normally artists create their work in total isolation in their studio. It is only once they exhibit their work that they are faced with a public reaction. The artists in Work of Art were all sharing the same studio and being filmed nearly around the clock. I was impressed how they were prepared to help each other despite the competitive nature of the show. Miles, while being the second youngest artist, was particularly generous with his advice. A number of the contestants would automatically seek his help.

There is a widely spread misconception that art is elitist and only there for the happy few insiders. This is the case despite the fact that there are as many people visiting museums that go to rock concerts or sport events. The show will hopefully familiarize a wider public with what it is to make or judge a work of art. Based on the first episode, Bravo clearly succeeded doing this in an entertaining and fun way.

There is as much diversity in the judging panel as there is amongst the contestants. China Chow is stylish, sexy, fun and has art in her DNA. She is the ultimate host for the show. After reading Jerry Saltz for years in New York Magazine it was great to finally meet him at the New York casting of the artists. I instantly liked him and find him sharp and witty in conveying his opinion to the artists. Bill Powers is a mega cool guy. It is for that reason that I had asked him together with his gorgeous wife Cynthia Rowley to grace the cover of one of Phillips de Pury's auction catalogs. Last but definitely not least, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn besides being a friend is one of the professionals for whom I have the greatest admiration in the art world. It was interesting to see that the other judges were all looking up to her and quite often taking their cue from her. Since in my own professional life it is all about editing, judging and choosing it was possibly my only frustration as a mentor not being able to also do so in the show.

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