Last Night, on "Work of Art": Judging a Book by What Jerry Saltz Says About It

Last Night, on "Work of Art": Judging a Book by What Jerry Saltz Says About It

ARTINFO was hoping to run into Jerry Saltz at the Rivane Neuenschwander opening at the New Museum on Tuesday night because ARTINFO is always hoping to run into Saltz and because we found, in the Brazilian artist’s 2003 piece, I Wish Your Wish, the perfect silken ribbon bracelet for our pal at New York magazine. It reads: “I wish I had my own reality show.” Now, for Saltz this dream has already come true. But given the fact that in its third episode, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist heralds the show’s continuing downward spiral away from all things visually pleasing and into a mire of embarrassment and insanity, we thought Saltz might be looking to swap allegiances and host a different show, perhaps artistically inclined long-haul truckers?

The task at hand in last night's episode, the third of of Bravosfine-art reality show, was to design the graphics and layout for the cover for one of six classic novels. Bill Powers described this as “a really relevant challenge for these artists,” though why wasn't exactly clear, unless he foresees more than a few of these gallery-aspirants ending up with careers in commercial design. John Parot was the winner with a whimsical illustration of The Time Machine, and as his prize Penguin will now use the design for a printing of actual copies of the book — an honor that, come to think of it, will probably get his work in front of more people than the vaunted Brooklyn Museum show. Books (we checked) are still something that old people read.

Speaking of “old” people, the not-actually-so-ancient-so-stop-talking-about-it Judith Braun was kicked off this week because she had the audacity to spell Pride and Prejudice backwards (Edirp and Ecidujerp) for her proposed design. That really confused people. “Your work would put these classics out of print!” moaned China Chow during the critique. ARTINFO thinks people will keep reading a book like Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland even if it featured a photograph of Simon de Pury playing hedgehog croquet on the cover. ARTINFO would definitely read that.

Now that you’re caught up, it’s time for the greatest moments of episode three, “Judging a Book By Its Cover.” We don’t mind if we do:

1. Jaclyn Santos has found a new way to make everything she does or says on the show more cringe-worthy than anything seen or heard on any television program before, and we watched parts of Jersey Shore. But ARTINFO predicts that she will stay on the show forever because she is always naked. Even though she talks extensively about how she’s such a shy person. How shy can you be if you get naked in a public bathroom, with cameras rolling, and don’t lock the door? And then she just feeds Bravo’s producers — whom one can only imagine rubbing their palms together, sitting on a Scrooge McDuck-worthy tower of money, and cackling as this unfolds — the most head-scratch-inducing lines. Describing her work to de Pury, she calls it is "more modern, but modern classic, not, you know, modern.” Did no one ever toss the word "contemporary" around Jeff Koons's studio when she was there? Then she calls Pride and Prejudice "a love story between Elizabeth and Darby" — dear reader, she only saw the movie — and then for the last 15 minutes of the show, she cries. Geez.

2. Miles Mendenhall, who finally didn’t win (except in the separate competition that took place in our hearts), read all of Frankenstein before attempting to design its cover, even though he only had a handful of hours to complete the entire project. Abdi Farah asks, “how gutsy is that to take the time to read an entire novel before you do the cover for it?” ARTINFO is not sure if “gutsy” is the right word. What is more gutsy is when Miles confesses, “all I really care about is starting an electrical fire.” Swoon. But it is worth noting that Frankenstein is a pretty boring book, and not really all that monster-packed. So it’s unclear what Miles was getting so excited about.

3. At last it makes sense how Stephenie Meyer could be all Mormon and still all into vampires. As Jaime Lynn Henderson explains, Dracula, the book for which she is composing a cover, “is a multi-layered book with a lot of themes in it some of which I can relate to, maybe because I’m a Christian.” And then, in one of the better unintentional wordplays of the night, she adds “certainly the idea of immortality has a very spiritual connotation… I really need to redeem myself.” What? In the competition, you mean? Or because of your clearly blasphemous misinterpretation of vampires’ relation to Christianity?

4. It seems that de Pury has stopped taking anything seriously and is just having a grand old time chuckling at everything that is going on around him. At one point he states that “to be on the cover of a Penguin book is the ultimate, ultimate accolade.” And then he actually giggles. Next, in a weirdly wonderful interstitial scene in the midst of a commercial break, he tells Jaclyn this rambling joke about a dog crying in a movie theater during Doctor Zhivago. The punchline is something about the dog hating the book. Jaclyn looks befuddled. Erik Johnson starts howling hysterically, from all the way across the room.

5. An explicit theme of this episode is the collective quest to answer the question: How crazy is Judith? But what emerges is the lurking feeling that Jerry Saltz is crazier. Describing the winning design, he says, “it actually looks the way a human head might look in the year seven hundred and two thousand eight hundred and one.” That is not actually a year. He also refers to the piece as “a head from the planet Pineapple.” That is not actually a planet.

6. Finally, who is Jonathon Santlofer? He writes paperback thrillers and he makes drawings of old movie stills and famous artists, which are kind of cute, sort of. But why is he a guest judge? Why is he critiquing a contestant's work with the remark — or praise? — “it’s sort of like real art but I don’t know if it’s like a real book cover.” His own book covers feature images of sprawled-out people in pools of blood. Now that's real. And apparently something that Jaime Lynn, as a vampire-Christian, can relate to.