The tweets kept popping up last night, as everyone who's ever been peripherally involved in the art world weighed in on the most thrilling topic since Marina Abramovics departure from MoMAs lobby left critics feeling morose and adrift. Of course, we're referring to Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, Bravo's through-the-looking-glass experiment in dialectical post-postmodern cultural interventions qua relational role-interrogatory critique. Or something.
On this program (as we all know by now) 14 would-be artists are mocked, humiliated, and ultimately driven from the studio one by one until a single dazed virtuoso is left, to be sprung from a cocoon of mediocrity by judges Jerry Saltz, Simon de Pury, Bill Powers, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, and China Chow — who collectively, it seems, have developed the mystical (albeit limited) power to release just one great artist into the world per television season.
What happened in the first episode? What must we remember when the time rolls around next week to tune in for the second installment? This week’s challenge was for each artist to make a portrait of one of the other contestants with whom they had been randomly (ha!) paired. Zany, hunky, seemingly-sleep-deprived artist Miles Mendenhall won with a silkscreen print of Nao Bustamente (in which that ferocious subject, according to Salon 94 gallerist Rohatyn, looks “completely euphoric; as if we’re watching… [her] drown”).
At the end, the season's first casualty was CCA adjunct professor Amanda Williams, who was booted from the show for what looked like entirely un-apocalyptic wallpaper — a bland abstract painting of Jaime Lynn Henderson, in which the artist used colors that Jaime Lynn was wearing to paint watery leaf-like forms. New York magazine critic Saltz's withering appraisal?: "To no one else will it ever be a portrait."
But here’s what actually stuck.
ONE: The interstitial shots of New York City streets — "theanyspacewhatevers," to quote Deleuze by way of the Guggenheim — are the kitschiest in a long history of television shows punctuating their scenes with Big Apple street shots. Imagine a picture of a cab rolling down Park Avenue with a cheesy hyper-saturated Photoshop treatment. What would Jerry say?
TWO: Miles and Nicole Nadeau are very attractive. The moment when Miles claims that he “can get more things done while bathing,” or when Peregrine Honig confesses that she “took Nicole’s clothes off with… [her] eyes” are far more titillating than the gentle caresses of the Ken Burns-like pans over all those amateurish paintings.
THREE: At this stage, Trong Nguyen, Nao, and Miles appear to be the only contestants with any talent. Actually, Trong doesn’t show much talent (or basic human emotion) on the first episode, but is impressively “able to locate some decorative wallpaper with snakes on it” in the studio, even though Miles can’t find a replacement light bulb when his burns out. Maybe ARTINFO is just rooting for Trong.
FOUR: Former Jeff Koons assistant Jaclyn Santos is offended when Judith Braun paints her portrait simply as the phrase “Proud Pussy,” but then again, Jaclyn applied to be on the show with a tabloid-inspired self-portrait of an accidental crotch exposure. Plus she is obviously proud of her looks, which are as buffed and rigorously shaped as the sculptures from Koons' studio. So she is, in fact a proud — well, you get it.
FIVE: It seems that executive producer Sarah Jessica Parker strolls on just to make a comment about government arts funding: “I grew up at a time when the government supported art.” This qualifies her, and a bajillion other people, to determine the quality of artworks.
SIX: Erik Johnson, the untrained Russell Crowe-esque contestant, paints a clown on a palette, and displays it on an easel. ("I like clowns," he says.) But even better, he asks Simon de Pury to “go hit a strip club.”