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Work of Art Recap: Episode 1-1

June 10, 2010
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I had my doubts about a reality show on art. After all, art is not food or fashion, commodities produced for the purpose of consumption. Although it’s certainly plenty commodified in today’s market, art is foremost, as New York Magazine Art Critic Jerry Saltz reminds us with appropriate seriousness, the outer expression of the inner self.

But this is reality TV, not museum studies. My expectations are low. I’m expecting trash talk and temper tantrums. Any actual art will be a bonus.

Our fourteen contestants are the requisite mixed bag: Nao immediately makes herself known as the loud, belligerent one. She even talks about herself in the third person. Sweet. Likable figurative painter Abdi has the oversized, sensitive eyes and tiny chin of a Keene figure. There’s the requisite older contestant, grey-haired Judith, who still thinks it’s radical to paint the word “pussy.” Trong, the confident conceptual artist with the spiky hair. Peregrine, a retro sprite who likes to paint naked girls and is into hermaphrodites. A couple of floppy-haired, floppy-limbed pretty waif boys. A trio of hot young chicks, one of whom, Jaclyn, was a studio assistant to Jeff Koons and advertises her own busty hotness by sharing that people don’t expect “someone like me” to be an artist. Another trio of rougher guys, two of whom (Mark and Erik) are self-taught. And finally the architect-turned-painter whose name you don’t have to remember because she rightly goes home immediately after producing a silly piece of mediocrity.

The Magical Elves are going with the exact same tried-and-true template they’ve successfully used with Project Runway, a format that not only we but the contestants seem very familiar with. And why not? It ain’t broke, so they didn’t fix it. There’s a three-person panel of expert judges, a sympathetic Tim-Gunn-type mentor (Simon de Pury, whose fabulously refined suits and fuzzy little accent will be fun to watch), a stern and stylish hostess, weekly challenges, and plenty of dissing and back-stabbing.

The elegant, socialite-slender Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn fits the Kelly Wearstler/Nina Garcia role to a tee, but so far Jerry Saltz is the only judge whose comments actually say something. Maybe they were trying to tone down the theory and analysis to make the show more accessible to the viewing public, but for the most part China and the judges talk about the art in terms of visceral reaction. China: “It’s been said that good art is not what it looks like, but how it makes us feel.” Who said that? Someone dumb, obviously. Only Saltz busts out words like “attack” and “surface,” but this is on poor Erik, the guy with no art background whatsoever. I like Saltz but that fight felt a bit mean. Yeah, the clown painting is beyond awful, but was Erik brought aboard just to be dumped on? Bill Powers did come through with that John Wayne Gacy association though, right?

Random Notes:

It’s pretty hilarious how much de Pury is slumming it on this show. When he says he’s never seen such a diverse group of people, I believe it.

Nao is obviously the designated love-to-hate villain. Despite her unimpressive showing this week (note to Nao: conceptual is fine, abstract is fine, but ugly and boring are bad), she will last for a while, I’m betting. Her abrasive personality is just too good television for the producers to throw away too soon.

Ryan is well named, as his work looks exactly like painted versions of Ryan McGinley photographs. He himself looks like an Elizabeth Peyton. In fact, I’m pretty sure he stole his hair style from one of her portraits.

Miles is a hyperactive, fist-clenching, OCD wreck. I predict regular meltdowns. But he was able to pull off a pretty silk screen of Nao to win the first week.

Full disclosure: I’ve met Peregrine, but don’t know her at all. I have, however, seen her work in person and admire the sensitive washes and delicate line. Peregrine is elfin and adorable herself, with those pixie curls and colorful retro style.

Mark is a self-taught working class photographer who obviously admires David LaChapelle. He makes splashy, witty images and seems like a very nice guy. Someone should do him a favor and tell him to get into commercial work stat. That’s where the budget is for the big photo productions he obviously wants to mount, not to mention the paychecks.

Judith’s proud pussy painting was embarrassingly bad, as was Nicole’s high school-quality portrait of Peregrine. I look forward to seeing them go soon.

The less said about Amanda’s amateurish piece of gift wrap the better. Good-bye Amanda!

I agreed with the judges on Miles but too bad for Abdi, as portraiture is his forte. I liked his piece this week but don’t know how he’ll fare in less representative challenges.

Work of Art is subtitled, “The Next Great Artist.” I think that’s going to be as accurate as “America’s Next Top Model”—all those girls pretty much sink into obscurity, right? I do think, though, that it has the makings of the next great reality show, or at least good enough to get me happily through the summer.

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One Response to “ Work of Art Recap: Episode 1-1 ”

  1. Jenny McPhee on June 17, 2010 at 4:26 am

    Hilarious! I would watch this in a second. Hasn’t made over the pond yet though. My fantasy panel of judges: Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Simon Cowell.

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