Last Night, on "Work of Art": Cults and Crayola

Last Night, on "Work of Art": Cults and Crayola

Episode seven of Bravos "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist," was titled "Child’s Play," but what it should have been called was "The Exhausted Twenty-Somethings Look Haggard, Offer Up Revelations in a Desperate Attempt to Make Anyone Care About Their Incredibly Boring Art." It begins, as usual, with a montage of US Weekly-inspired "Just Like Us" moments: in this installment we are made privy to such scintillating events as Jaclyn Santos eating an apple, Abdi Farah praying, and Miles Mendenhall struggling to open a bag of Corn Flakes — ah, the plights of the creative genius. It turns out that everyone but Miles misses Erik Johnson (which is funny because they all acted like catty middle-school girls toward him when he was there) and everyone has turned against Miles (except for Nicole Nadeau, who wants to lock doe eyes with him forever in a vortex of cuteness that will hasten the apocalypse).

Then Simon de Pury bursts in with a sweep of the arm usually reserved for multimillion dollar gavel-pounding, and roars, "let’s go take the subway!" (Apparently some production assistant forgot where he parked the Audis.) We learn that Simon is taking them to a museum, and we sigh that special sigh we reserve for our moments of patronizing the programming of the Brooklyn Museum, because, of course, we assume they are going to the Brooklyn Museum. They are not. And this is sad, because it will disappoint baby-woodland-creature contestant Nicole, who has just astutely stated that “artists really love to see art and be around it.” But their slick Swiss tour guide is taking them to SoHo’s Children’s Museum of the Arts, which even Jerry Saltz has never heard of before. De Pury next describes how SoHo was an art Mecca in the 1980s, which seems to have very little to do with the Children’s Museum of the Arts and its profusion of pompoms.

The contestants are told to make art inspired by the juvenile experiences that led them to become artists in the first place, using only the materials in the museum’s workshop. (ARTINFO worries that if the contestants use all of the pipe cleaners and macaroni, the children will have nothing left, and will turn to turn to dealing crack on the streets. Funding for children’s arts education is not exactly thriving.) Miles says, "I feel like I’m going to throw up and sneeze at the same time," which sounds like something you shouldn’t do in a room used by germ-magnet elementary schoolers. Then Nicole drops another show-stopping line, asking, "Why can’t kids have knives?" — sending audiences across the nation into a philosophical tailspin. Miles at some point says of a ball-filled playpen, "those balls are not sanitized," and we realize that this show has made us inured to all genitalia jokes.

Somehow the juvenile arts-and-crafts environment fails to summon that madeleine of Popsicle sticks and yarn that could bring the contestants back to their innocent, untelevised artistic roots, because the work they produce in the challenge is pretty eh. Or, in the wise, oddly-pronounced words of de Pury, "I am slightly unimpressed, to put it mildly." Long story short, Peregrine Honig wins, and Ryan Shultz gets the boot. Now to the Crayola-smeared coloring book of revelations:

1. Is Simon de Pury omniscient? The gang is eating breakfast on the roof. (A terrifying prospect: placing seven knife-and-hot-glue-gun-toting rivals on the verge of psychotic breakdowns high above the city’s surging streets, a la the climactic rooftop scene in the "Departed.") Anyway, Simon de Pury somehow manages to find them. Is he able to locate them in this unexpected place because he works on the show? We prefer to imagine he knows where they are because, as the Manager, he controls the movements of all elements contained within the spheres of the Great Chain of Being.

2. Ryan was a Jehovah’s Witness? Now he’s "essentially an outcast," he says. He makes a piece out of squiggly drawings of rainbows and torn up construction paper, which he "carefully dishevels," he explains, "like I do my own hair." Also, these days he is "really digging" pencils. Mark Velasquez tells him that he looks "drunk, stoned," to which list Ryan adds "dead." Why are we being subjected to so much Ryan? He is the painfully unlikely focus of this episode; therefore, he will go home.

3. Nicole has a twin sister? Did they tell us that before? I forget. But it would be awesome every time. Two Nicoles! Perhaps the other Nicole is also sporting camo pants! Perhaps the other Nicole also walks around wearing disturbingly adorable pipe cleaner glasses. Only Simon de Pury can answer such riddles concerning the mysteries of the universe.

4. Abdi says he uses the quadratic formula all the time? He thinks that the quadratic formula is A squared + B squared = C squared. Nope.

5. Jaclyn was an unhappy child? She used to eat lunch in a bathroom stall. Now she gets naked and takes photographs of herself in a bathroom stall. She is clearly much better adjusted these days.

6. Miles remembers nothing from his childhood? Is this because he was engineered in a military lab to win art-world reality shows? Whatever weird psychological trauma prompts this lacuna makes him "want to put on mittens" when he sees Jaclyn’s piece. What?

7. Mark is from a town where people had to walk 10 blocks to work? Is it a little town called Chelsea?

8. Peregrine grew up in an "urban art commune"? There, she was "introduced to religion and sexuality in a different way." Did Peregrine grow up as a part of a cult? Possibly. She uses papier-mâché, chalk, and construction paper to make a sculpture featuring drugs, cigarettes, candy, and a unicorn, and says it is about people that she grew up with who died of AIDS. She describes her parents' friends "with crack vials" as "really interesting people." Jerry Saltz checks out the unicorn and comments, "I do trolls." Then he flexes his cultural-reference caché by stating of the piece, "it really has songs of innocence and songs of experience."

9. China Chow got in a fight with a troll? Her dress is shredded and her hair is doing this humid-day-in-a-wind-tunnel thing where it looks like it’s constantly moving and expanding.

10. Will Cotton is the guest judge? And he is attracted to the "level of obscurity" in Nicole’s work. He just unveiled a portrait of a naked Katy Perry reclining on cotton candy! Talk about a total lack of obscurity. Can't say that it makes that much sense that he is drawn to a work that "doesn’t show itself to you at first glance."

11. Bill Powers is a parent? Wait, what?