The two-minute preview for the new Bravo TV show Gallery Girls is titled “The Cutthroat World of Gallery Girls.” The clip promises the approved dose of unapologetic reality TV narcissism, e.g. “[People] think I’m a brat or whatever. That’s fine with me” and “That makes me seem completely narcissistic … which I am, but … ” But what stands out most about the ad is the repeated emphasis on competition. In the world of this show, “everyone’s just fighting to survive” in New York. Not in the gritty, existential sense of a Bruce Springsteen song, or in the way that millions of New Yorkers are working class and struggling, but because privileged and ambitious people are mean. Success in this world is, of course, measured in dollars; in the clip, one gallery girl talks about why she loves curating her own gallery: “It makes me want to sell million-dollar paintings.”
None of this is surprising coming from the TV station that ranked artists in a reality competition, as if a panel of judges beholden to TV producers is an acceptable way to judge art’s quality, as if one can objectively rank artists by quality. Bravo refuses to acknowledge the one thing that makes a work of art interesting in this money-fueled world: it has a whole set of competing criteria and subjectivities that have nothing to do with its price tag.
One girl mentions that she was “obsessed with Carrie Bradshaw’s life” in Sex and the City. Like that show, Gallery Girls will appeal to those both inside and outside New York: New Yorkers, who have a hearty streak of narcissism ourselves, love to see our own lives reflected back through TV’s bizarre glass; for those elsewhere, the show will stand in that great tradition of showing a skewed city where most people are white, good-looking, judgmental and either wealthy or striving to be. There is danger in reinforcing these patterns. The show also seems to take it as a given that women populate the peripheries of galleries, but I’m not sure we should hold our breathe and wait to see if they bother to ask why. In the gendered art world, where the myth of male artistic genius still dominates and women are too often dismissed as, well, the types of women in this commercial, perhaps this is not the image to project week after week to a national audience.
Watching this preview of Gallery Girls, you would think nearly everyone in the arts wears stilettos and makeup (or is a horribly obnoxious man), is trying to eviscerate the competition or is unapologetically devoted to the dollar. In fact, there live artists and art workers today who commit themselves to things like “ideas” and “innovation.” Some are even attached to such unpopular words as “community,” “sincerity’,” “politics” and “technique.”
For anyone who doesn’t identify with the Gallery Girls‘ conception of the art world, this will be the show you love to hate. But this isn’t really a show about art anyway; Gallery Girls is as much about art as Survivor is about tropical ecology. This is a show about the swirl of capital and ego that surrounds and occasionally attaches itself to art. “Art” just serves as the excuse — the mover of dollars, a tool of self-glorification and an occasion for parties.