Last Night, on "Work of Art": Plato, Private Sexual Acts, and Terence Koh

Last Night, on "Work of Art": Plato, Private Sexual Acts, and Terence Koh

This week, the judges of Bravos "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist" tried to prove that opposites attract, by having the remaining members of the weary gang pair up. Each duo was then meant to collaborate on one piece that incorporated their opposing thematic forces. (They could have just set up Simon de Pury and Nao Bustamante on a date, but sadly, that ship has sailed.) Anyway, what actually happened was that each person made their own individual work and then placed it in the general vicinity of their partner’s in the gallery. This was not the assignment, but for now, let us move on.

China Chow, whose tone is growing more ominous and apocalyptic as her garb becomes more and more prom-appropriate, employs her drama-heightening vacant death stare and intones that there are "only two more challenges to determine who will be going to the finale." All of the artists whisper, "whoa," but China Chow is not a horse and cannot be stopped. Simon de Pury wants "to be blown away," which oddly evokes an image of someone removing the cork concealed somewhere on the auctioneer’s body and watching him whiz off, all of the air squealing out of him. Abdi Farah feels "clueless," Mark Velasquez feels "all alone." Peregrine Honig says of the challenge, "Oh wow, that’s interesting." And then, in the commercial break Bravo shows nearly back-to-back Toyota and BP ads. Oh wow, that’s interesting.

 

Now down to business: Miles Mendenhall and Jaclyn Santos win for their interpretation of the man/woman dichotomy. Mark gets kicked off for his representation of heaven. And here’s why.

ORDER and CHAOS (Nicole Nadeau and Abdi)
"And what, Socrates, is the food of the soul? Surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul." —PLATO

Nicole suggests that Abdi find inspiration for his depiction of chaos in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Abdi then makes a kind of lumpy sculpture out of what looks like Play Doh, which is a product with which children are meant to play and not a Greek philosopher. Then, Abdi will not stop telling all of the judges that his work was inspired by Socrates’s (sic) story about the cave. And none of the judges correct him. No one on the show corrects him, ever.

Nicole makes a pretty swell piece that sounds like it’s going to be one of those Rube Goldberg roll-the-marble-and-hit-the-bucket-and-have-the-toast-pop-out creations, but really it’s just something like an endless fortune cookie that you can crank through a spool. But it is neat anyway — at least until China Chow kind of breaks it during the gallery show.

What was neater, for pure entertainment value, is when Nicole goes into the biggest, nonsensical art-school rant in the history of the MFA: "When you’re in the order, you feel fine, but there’s this outside entity that’s breathing new life into something, you know? Like this supernova, like this explosion, but this beautiful explosion that creates new life. It’s like an energy that can’t be contained."

MALE and FEMALE (Miles Mendenhall and Jaclyn Santos)
"All the gold which is under or upon the earth is not enough to give in exchange for virtue." —PLATO

Miles is sad that he wasn’t paired with Nicole. Primarily, it turns out, because his approach to collaborative art-making is to get his partner to do something sexual — although not necessarily with him (at least he sets his sights low). Miles’s Machiavellian approach to achieving total domination this time around is to feign, in his work, that he is "a man losing control," while Jaclyn makes a related piece about being a "woman gaining it." Miles then commands her to make a painting of herself masturbating. He thinks it will be "pretty saucy." Then he gets her to help him on his contribution to the piece — an installation of two walls, one covered in tar and one with two small holes — by varnishing it without a face mask. That’s the way to keep a woman in her place.

He keeps telling her to "go inward" but every time he says this, he just makes this curvy lady gesture, from which we infer that Miles wants Jaclyn to paint what is inside of her clothing. Also, here’s a thought, masturbation is not the best emblem of feminine power — especially as Miles has already masturbated on the show for the "shocking art" challenge. Masturbation is not a symbol for everything, Miles.

Jaclyn is so not-at-all empowered by the process of painting herself pleasuring herself that she can’t even say the word masturbation. Asked by Simon de Pury what she’s up to in the image, she responds, "It’s a private sexual act." Then, China Chow inquires during the critique, "what act are you performing?" "It’s a sexual act," Jaclyn replies. "So you’re masturbating," Chow translates for the rest of us. But Bill Powers still doesn’t get it. "This piece is not literal," Powers insists emphatically. This piece is literally a realist self-portrait of Jaclyn masturbating.

Guest judge Ryan McGinness (looking like Andrew McCarthy in "St. Elmo’s Fire," i.e. greasy and earnest) asks Jaclyn if she masturbates standing up. "It’s important," he says. Creepy. Then Jerry Saltz says of the piece, "I actually get off on that," a phrase that loses all pretense of euphemism when actually discussing masturbation. Finally, Jaclyn gets her groove back, boldly asserting, "the frontal composition makes me seem like an idol, almost." Full-frontal idolatry brought to you by BP and Toyota. Time to discuss....

HEAVEN and HELL (Mark Velasquez and Peregrine Honig)
"As the builders say, the larger stones do not lie well without the lesser." —PLATO

Here is another showdown to see who can get their fellow contestant naked. "I don’t know how comfortable you’d be nude," Mark says to his partner, "especially even from behind." Especially even? Peregrine looks sad, perhaps because she grew up on a commune riddled with unsafe sexual experimentation. But she, a woman regaining power, rebuts with, "what about your scar?"

Turns out that Mark had a gastrointestinal condition that once caused his stomach to explode. "I’m still uncomfortable seeing my image large," says Mark, a comment at which we absolutely did not laugh. Peregrine, however, when she mentions that Mark’s stomach exploded during the crit, does laugh, which is awkward. Also awkward: when Miles says of Mark moving in, "you never know how he’s going to fit into the apartment." Enough with the fat jokes. The partners make some banners out of photos of Mark shirtless. Peregrine uses a lot of glitter. Mark doesn’t know what color the sky is.

And Peregrine has a husband?

ALSO OF NOTE
"He was a wise man who invented beer." — PLATO

The interstitial mid-commercial segment this week brings a rapid-fire montage of the artists espousing words and phrases that they don’t understand: "panopticon... tonal variations of the same hue... cerebralism... signifier... planned obsolescence" — essentially, a condensed version of the entire season of the television program thus far.

Also, Terence Koh is at the opening of the gallery show. This bears repeating: Terence Koh is at the opening of the gallery show. And Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn is missing for the second week in a row. Should we be worried? The other judges seem a little worried. China Chow actually starts crying when she sends Mark home. And Jerry Saltz sounds like he’s about to start doling out vigilante justice when he growls, "I’ve got three people in trouble tonight in my mind... deep trouble."