10th Jun 2010
Bravo’s new reality show Work of Art aired its first episode on Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 11 p.m. EDT.
I have to give the show a thumbs up, because it is the only show on regular cable television that focuses on the Contemporary Art world and artists. It has no competition or role models except from other reality shows dealing with cooking, design, and performing talent, plus Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, which thankfully brought us several shows that dealt with Contemporary Art. Even PBS, which has the most and usually best shows about art, does not have a single weekly show that focuses on only Contemporary Art.
Yet, in relation to the world of Contemporary Art, Work of Art as a representational show dealing with reality is a kind of misleading. While singers, dancers and designers audition in similar ways on other reality shows in real life, i.e. reality, artists do not. What most resembled reality for artists all happened before this show ever aired; the culling down of all the artists and submissions to end up with this group show.
The premise is that the winner of this show will gain a prize of $100,000.00, and even better for a real artist with something to say: a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum. There is a hint of art world reality here as only one person can have a solo show by definition.
The competitiveness is a false construct for the art world and artists. Artists work to be within a stable of other good to great artists represented by a gallery. While Picasso had a famous ongoing competition with Matisse, this is rare. Most artists are fairly supportive and even help create the careers of other artists as Warhol did for Basquiat.
Many of the movements of Modern Art were the products of artists like the Impressionists and Abstract Expressionists who knew each other and were friends. It is interesting to note that so far, the artists of the show do seem to be basically encouraging and even critiquing one another. Perhaps this will continue and prove to be a refreshing peek at real life artists.
The subtitle of this show is “The Next Great Artist”. So far not a single artist has produced a work that is so singularly original that we could believe this claim of greatness. Definitely there are some good artists on the show, people who can and will make professional careers for themselves—but will other artist of the next generations be inspired by them? Is anyone challenging traditions? Will they be remembered in 200 years? Des this need to happen for the show to be a success?
In the first challenge artists were paired up and given about 12 hours to produce a portrait of their partner. Although artists can face time constraints when drawing from models, generally artists can and do take work back to the studio.
The main problem with the show lies in the time constraint given to the artists. Since the show’s producers seek to show a work by each member of the remaining group of artists on a weekly basis, the show follows the Project Runway format. But artists are not like fashion designers who are basically all using similar materials to present basically same sized works (clothes for models). Contemporary artists create works using different materials, processes, media and sizes.
The show needs to accommodate this, the way that America’s Got Talent and American Idol do, giving the artists a week or more, plus whatever they require (such as video cameras, welding equipment and space, or computers and printing equipment) to make the art they want to show to the world. The way to attract a really “Next Great Artist” is to give a budding but 21st Century artist the time to really show what they can produce to the world. That’s more enticing than a show at he Brooklyn Museum or $100,000.000 considering the reality show’s audience size. Then the show’s subtitle of “The Next Great Artist” might be fulfilled.
However, given only 12 hours and limited materials the show’s artists struggled to produce works as if they were in a classroom setting focusing more on producing what was requested for a grade than by being an off the wall original artist. The only two portraits that were not realistic were placed in the bottom three by the judges. One of the most original ideas made it to this sad heap, a work by Nao of Conceptual Art, which failed to identify itself as a portrait other than through its assigned (by the show) title: Portrait of Miles – but given some help, including a better title (Like Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living), plus time, might have completed its leap forward instead of falling flat of the mark.
As things stood, I would have chosen the same works, both as best and least as the judges. However, I am concerned at how Pollock, Judd, Koons, Holzer, Sherman, Kandinsky, Rothko or other artists who blazed new forms of art would have fared as emerging artists if confronted with this portrait assignment and given only 12 hours and limited materials?
What is overwhelmingly positive is that Bravo’s Work of Art brings a small slice of the Contemporary Art world into homes across America. While musicians and authors make the talk show route, appear on reality shows and also are popular as characters on fictional shows, fine artists, gallery owners and art critics are generally left out on TV. For most of America, visits to cutting edge galleries of museums are rare as these exist in a handful of big cities like New York. When tourists visit New York, they are very likely to visit the major art museums but exceptionally unlikely to visit galleries, especially those that feature emerging artists.
The host of Work of Art is China Chow, who also serves as a judge. I am not really clear what qualifies her for this role other than her lovely presence, but so far she is doing a good job and is at least as qualified as the show’s also lovely producer, actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who collects art. It works because in art, and I guess now for shows about art, what inevitably qualifies an one is the level of the work produced.
The art world luminaries who dominate the show for the artists and art world, including those at home watching and even tweeting, are judges: Bill Powers, partner in New York’s Half Gallery and literary art contributor, Jerry Saltz, current art critic for New York Magazine, and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, curator and owner of Salon94 gallery; plus art auctioneer Simon de Pury who serves as mentor to the contestants.
While clever to sarcastic comments in print reviews, blogs, tweets and Facebook posts have compared the judges and mentor to those on other reality shows or even questioned their sanity for appearing on such a reality show, in the first episode they all did a good job of critiquing the art work in ways that both the artists and art world—plus those who are comfy at home watching this new entertainment, could understand. They also accomplished this without resorting to the drama, snide or rude comments or posturing sometimes seen on other reality shows.
“Art is a way of showing to the outside what’s on the inside.” – Jerry Saltz
As a reality show Work of Art is meant to entertain. If it also broadens the audience, reach and understanding of good Contemporary fine art then this show is a resounding success for Contemporary Art. Plus, if it is a strong enough ratings success, it could inspire more programs that focus on art. So again, I say: thumbs up.
Join me @judyrey on Twitter to watch and Tweet on next Wednesday at 11 p.m. EDT under the tag of #workofart
Want to read more about the show? Jerry Saltz has his own insightful and humorous critique of the show and his participation in his New York Magazine article.