ARTINFO spoke with Abdi Farah, the conquering hero of Bravo's reality television show whose triumphant work will go on display at the world-famous Brooklyn Museum tomorrow. The network will also fork over $100,000 to the artist, a 22-year-old recent University of Pennsylvania graduate who on his Web site refers to himself "first, as a son of God," adding that "everything else, including being an artist, is marginal." It's nice when the marginal comes with a large cash prize, but Bravo certainly couldn't have picked someone more grateful. Read on to hear Abdi gush about how wonderful it was to be on the show. This guy is really, really happy. And good for him too — ARTINFO applauds. (ARTINFO has known Abdi was a lock even before he was picked for the show.) Check back on Monday for exit interviews with the two runners-up.
How are you?
I’m really good. I’m supergood.
I saw you at this event at the Brooklyn Museum with your mom. Are you really going to give her all the money that you won?
Why not? I figure she’s a better businesswoman. She’ll keep me from buying like, a Mustang or something.
Do you have anything that you know you definitely want to buy?
I’m getting into some really awesome art that’s going to need a lot of money. I’m hoping to build a small foundry in my house. I’m getting into sculpture, which is way more expensive than painting, so the money will get put to very unsexy ways of fostering my career.
I don’t know, a foundry’s pretty sexy.
It is pretty cool, I can’t lie.
You don't often hear people talking about their foundries. Like, "come hang out in my foundry." Pretty cool.
I’ll probably cut my leg off or something, put a hole through the house.
So you’ve been making sculptures?
I’ve been doing both 2-D and 3-D since the end of the show, but I kind of see myself now moving more into 3-D.
How do you feel about having a show go up at the Brooklyn Museum on Saturday? Do you feel like you deserve it more than the other contestants, that you’re the Next Great Artist?
I feel supergreat to be having a show go up. I’ve been a fan of the Brooklyn Museum for a long time. I saw an amazing show there when I was in the eleventh grade. I saw the Basquiat retrospective when I was in twelfth grade. I’ve just been a big fan of the museum for a long time, so the fact that I’m going to have a show there is so awesome. As far as do I deserve it? I feel within the context of the competition, I definitely deserve it. I worked my tail off on that finale show. I feel equally, Miles [Mendenhall] and Peregrine [Honig] deserve it as well, but for some reason they chose me, so I’ll take it. It’s just an amazing honor in general. In the context of artists, I think whatever artist enjoys success, it’s always like wow, there are so many people who work just as hard and make just as great art that will never reach this level and it’s just a gift.
Do you feel that your work has gotten progressively better over the course of the show? Did working under imposed rules have any beneficial effect?
I really wish everybody could see what we experienced day in and day out working in this competition. It was by far the greatest artistic experience I’ve had. I expected to learn about business, I expected to learn how to work with people and not kill people when things got tough, but I learned so much about art, in and of itself. That I did not expect at all coming into this. I think it is because of the show. I feel the show has gotten a lot of bad responses because people are like, "artists don’t make art in 20 hours" and "artists don’t work together in one big space" but I feel like those are the things that made this show as special as it is.
But did those kinds of restrictions drive you to make good art? Or just to think about art-making differently?
I feel like throughout the entire competition every single competitor made some really good stuff, made some crazy stuff, made some bad stuff — but to me it was all so fresh and alive and new and exciting because it was nothing that we would ever have made in our own studios, given all of our crutches that we lean upon, all of the comforts we have around us, the time to do whatever we want. I think it’s through competition that you see what you really are, and it’s not necessarily what you thought you were. With some of those challenges, I don’t even know what I was thinking, but something subconscious spit out onto the canvas and sometimes it was good and sometimes it was bad, but it was always really revelatory. I wish I could orchestrate this for myself every couple of years when I’m feeling in a rut because it was really eye-opening.
Obviously in the end it was a very sunny experience for you — you won. Do you think there’s a danger that you’ll be associated with the show for a while and it will mark your career? And for the other contestants who didn’t win, do you think being on the show could affect their careers negatively?
I feel like in this crazy world anything can affect anything negatively or positively, it’s really random. But for me personally, I feel like nothing in my life is random. I feel like everything is going to work out perfectly great for me, and I feel like I would only be worried about my name being connected with this show if I wasn’t a fan of this show. I’m an absolute fan of this show, and I would be honored if this show was connected with my name 20 years from now. I don’t care. I feel like people who are insecure about how they view themselves would care that this show is connected with them. I don’t think reality competition is new. You think of "Star Search," you think of like Rosie O’Donnell or Martin Lawrence, these people got their start on "Star Search." There’s nothing different between that and this. People have realized that they’re more than that competition, but I’m pretty sure that they are permanently proud that they were a part of what they did there.
Why did you decide to go on "Work of Art"?
I’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time. I’ve always been a fan of "Top Chef" and "Project Runway" and these shows where people are really into their craft and competing to do really good stuff. And then I graduated from college in May of 2009 and I was working and teaching in Philadelphia, but I really didn’t have a next step. I applied for a bunch of fellowships, I applied for a Fulbright, I applied for all of these residencies, and even though I did really well in college, I didn’t get any of them.
How did you hear about the show?
The chair of the fine arts department at Penn sent out this mass email to the grad students and the undergrads, and he was like, "I heard about this audition for this show. I really hope I don’t see any of you guys on it, but I’ll let you know anyway." But as soon as I heard about it — I was eating breakfast with some friends of mine, who I was living with — I was like, "we’ve got to do it, we’ve got to get our portfolios together, we’re going up to New York on Saturday, we’re doing this, this is totally awesome!" And the whole rest of the week I was in the print shop making prints, getting my portfolio together, gathering small works together. I went up to New York on that Saturday, stood on line for seven hours, and just for some reason got moved on to the next step.
If there’s a second season of this show, do you have any ideas for what might make for a good challenge? Its there anything you might want to see? Any specific guest judges?
Oh, man, it’s funny, I feel like I have dreams about challenges and then I can’t remember.
Like happy dreams or like nightmares?
They’re exciting dreams, they’re like action movie dreams. There are always, like, fire engines, and there are always, like, dirt bikes, and they’re really heart-racing. The guest judges this year were so great, but maybe Jeff Koons should stop by. That would be really cool. I feel like he’s so connected with what this show represents. Which is great. I’m a big fan. I like the challenges that are more akin to the second challenge, which was the electronic graveyard challenge where we were kind of brought to this place full of inspiration and full of objects to work with and they would just kind of go to town. Maybe if they took us to like an old toy store or something. I feel like they should implement video in some way and maybe have us create group videos, or something. They had some good ones, though. There were some good challenges in this one too.
Sometimes the judges could be pretty harsh. Were there any zingers that will stick with you?
There were. I’m thinking Jerry Saltz had a bunch towards me. He said that my — and this is a good one — he said that my sculpture from episode two looked like a trophy that someone would win at an MTV Music Awards. Which I kind of like. But I don’t think that was a compliment in his book.