11 pm, Wednesday, June 9th marked a watershed moment for the art world: the first time that contemporary art was inducted in the burgeoning canon of reality TV. Bravo’s new series, Work of Art, enters the channel’s line up of contest-based reality shows, home to such luminaries as Top Chef, Project Runway, and Shear Genius. Featuring legitimate art-worlders Jerry Saltz and Simon de Pury, the show aspires to find “the next great artist.” Will it succeed in picking an artist the art world will accept? Or will the show turn out to be more of a Dadaist farce, too nonsensical to have any relevance?
The first episode of Work of Art aired Wednesday June 9th at 11pm on Bravo. For a primer, I proudly recommend turning to our colleague Art Fag City for overviews of the candidates and excerpts from an interview with the judges. So how did it turn out? Well, why not just read on? See below for an episode recap and a twitter digest, culled from WNYC’s #workofart.
WORK OF ART, EPISODE 1
The episode begins in much the same way as any other Bravo reality show, with a montage of cutesy artist introductions! Our cast flash on the screen, brushing paint onto a plexiglas wall in front of a camera and gesturing with various implements of their art-making. After we get to see the faces of the artists, Abdi Farah explains that their first assignment upon coming to the show was to create a self-portrait, a major hint at the first challenge. The self-portraits are hung in a dull white cube gallery, set in random pairs.
In the following scene we are treated to further snapshots of our artists though only a few personalities are thrown into focus. Nao Bustamante, relatively established performance artist, quickly takes on the role of resident bitch. Miles Mendenhall is a cute hipster with OCD. Amanda Williams is a dry professor. Jaclyn Santos is a BABE (yo, for real, her sexy artist-ness is played up throughout the episode). Erik Johnson is a self-taught naïf who paints angsty high school stuff. Judith Braun is a sassy lady. Trong Nguyen is indeed robotic. And mentor Simon de Pury shows up! Even more fastidious than Tim Gunn, de Pury’s voice and demeanor is so generically gentlemanly that he seems more suited to setting a neat table than critiquing art. Chill out, it’s just reality TV! “Art” is Work of Art host China Chow’s “passion,” she’s around for the decoration.
Chow and de Pury team up to announce the FIRST CHALLENGE to the gathered artists: create a portrait of the cast member that your self-portrait is matched up with in the gallery! Seems to have some potential. Artists have to “show the inner essence of subject”… in only 13 hours. After meeting them some few hours ago. The studio space turns out to be even worse than the gallery. No windows, but tons of art supplies are present along with a mysterious stripe mural off to one side.
The artists have 30 minutes to get to know their subjects further, and we’re immediately set off on a series of snap judgements: Miles and Nao make a pretty good pair, both legit. Judith Braun thinks hottie Jaclyn is a “proud pussy.” We see Braun’s series of pussy-cats, including a cute kitten captioned ‘shy white pussy’ (don’t Google that). Jaclyn is offended. John Parot thinks Trong is a “cool-as-a-cucumber hipster.” Peregrine Honig “took Nicole Nadeau’s clothes off with her eyes” to create a naked portrait. Jamie Lynn Henderson sez, “I’m not just a ditzy Christian blonde, I’m an artist!” We know, dear, we know. Aren’t we all? She also likes “glitz.” Mark Velasquez is a fry cook (Bravo’s caption, not mine) who enjoys “shooting scantily clad models in weird costumes.”
SURPRISE! Patron saint of Work of Art Sarah Jessica Parker shows up. Miles (facetiously) asks who she is. We don’t even care. She doesn’t do anything. We briefly see Judith’s Proud Pussy painting on screen, in glaring pink. Doesn’t look half bad to me. Too bad we barely got to see it again. Miles starts in on a screenprinting of Nao as a riff on an old school “death portrait,” as Nao maps Miles’ movements around the studio on white paper, dots with connecting lines. John likes Trong’s use of snakeskin. Miles sez Nicole is intimidatingly good looking, “but so is Judith!” Totes agree. Simon de Pury somehow convinces Erik that he finished early with a crap painting of a clown-faced Mark. Unfortunate comparisons were made to John Wayne Gacy’s oeuvre.
Pre-judging, as always, the artists retreat to their fabulous dormitories. Apparently the William Beaver House is the “ultimate downtown address,” but what it looks like is someone swallowing enamel and vomiting Ikea shit all over the place. Weird.
THE JUDGING! But not before someone announces that the works of art “have to be done in five minutes.” Did anyone else find this time limit hilarious? The artists hang their works in the anonymous gallery in pairings with their portrait partners, and in pours a crowd of total randos (!?) plus the judges, the contestants trailing behind. Erik likes finally seeing his art in a gallery, we all go awww and our hearts melt.
Judge introductions! Saltz tells us that “art is a way of showing the outside world what your inside world is like.” He looks pugnacious. Rawr. “Gallerist” and judge Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn wants something that intrigues her. Judge #3 Bill Power wants something that… “gets him off.” Cause if the art doesn’t, he “can’t sell it in his gallery.” Oooof.
Everyone agrees Miles’ work is sweet with its added plastic veil. Nao doesn’t come off so well. The judges complain that they can’t see the link between the minimalist drawing and “portraiture.” Plus you can’t see the tiny photo-booth portrait of Miles hung next to the drawing if you approach the work from the side. Ouch. “Typically, people walk around in a gallery situation,” Nao retorts. I’m pretty sure that’s a valid defense. She then utters the already classic line, “I’m not responsible for your experience of my work.”
Jerry’s facial expression looks like Brooklyn Rail publisher Phong Bui is giving him a wedgie out off-camera. Amanda’s abstract portrait “looks like falling leaves” and gets generally trashed. Abdi’s energetically bright portrait “has a vertical thrust to it” that Rohatyn clearly enjoys. Mm girl. She also notes that the “commercial aspect” of Mark’s photoshopped work “will be a positive.” Yeeeahh. It actually looks like something from Deviantart.
THE WINNER? Miles, Mark and Abdis top the podium for the three best, and Miles wins hands down. Everyone seems gracious. Remind me again how you “win” at art? Amanda, Erik and Nao are the three “losers” (Nao didn’t deserve that, but she did worry she was “too rude” to the judges) but only Amanda gets kicked off the show. Apparently her painting didn’t make the judges “feel anything,” and her “work of art didn’t work” for them. Reality TV loves wordplay. Artist William Powhida made the comment on Twitter that the first loser of the show was probably the winner in terms of credibility. In that case, congratulations Amanda!
SO!? At the end of the first episode, I’m thinking that Work of Art is going to be entertaining, and that’s about it as far as “Great Art” goes. Some of the artists created pretty interesting work, I quite like Miles’ portrait and I think it’s a legitimately good piece. But the real fun came in the running Twitter commentary art-worlders had on the show. Work of Art is kind of like a caricature of the art world — it’s fun to look at, instructive as a parody, and leads us to look at ourselves in a slightly different way. But the real question — WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Quoting Miles on his portrait of Nao:
@cmonstah: #workoFart guy quote of the night: “The only way I was going to understand her was to make her dead.”
Nominating de Pury for further hosting duty:
@lindsaypollock: Simon de Pury is natural and appealing on TV-who knew?
On de Pury’s equipment:
@artfagcity: Why doesn’t Simon de Pury have a gavel he can use on the show to show approval? #workofart
One way to have fun (or die) while watching Work of Art:
@cmonstah: Everyone drink when people says “I am an artist” self-importantly. | RT @anxiaostudio Sounds like we may need a #workofart drinking game.
They made me feel something!
@Powhida: Jaclyn has nice tits. Sculpture? #workofart
Note the hashtags:
@tmccool: top chef and work of art should be merged into a 2 hour long special. #workofart #wokofart
Jen Dalton made a popular comment:
@jen_dalton: #workofart not helping artists’ image as ridiculous untalented self-important pompous clueless tricksters
Our own Hrag Vartanian echoes another theme:
@hragv: So true // OK the art SUCKS but the crit is pretty awesome. Jerry’s eyebrow raising is priceless #workofart /via @jen_dalton
On subbing Klaus for de Pury:
@joygarnett: He would LOVE. RT @ARTnewsmag: Klaus Biesenbach? RT brynarc Just saw #workofart and am trying to figure out who should play Tim Gunn role.
More EPIC substitutions:
@ARTnewsmag: @joygarnett @cmonstah also Richard Serra should be Simon Cowell & Tracey Emin should be Nina Garcia on #workofart
Pictures of the other contestants’ portraits can be found on Bravo’s site here. All pictures courtesy of Bravotv.com