Work of Art: Season 2, Episode 4

Work of Art is the kind of show where — regardless of whether you’ve seen several episodes in a row (which, side note: I kind of had to, due to travelling) or have let weeks go by — you really have no sense of who’s doing “well” and whose art isn’t “working.” Not only are most of the artestants flinging crap one episode whilst striking at something interesting the next, but the judges similarly vacillate between coherent approachable observations and at the same time absurd trivial complaints. In other words, I seriously have no idea who’s “winning” Work of Art. I definitely know who’s losing, and that person’s reading/writing this recap. Just kidding! Jokes!

So this week’s it’s the classic Bravo child-themed episode, where the artestants variously create something inspired by/in spite of their assigned kid. We see this over and over again on Top Chef, Project Runway, Launch My Line, etc. I wondered how this would go, what with all the recent nudity and poop. Oh wait, kids love that!

Immediately I’m thinking, “hey, some of these kids’ stuff ain’t half bad!” I love when the artestants find things to love and/or hate in the children’s art…as if it matters. There’s a whole part where some girl’s painting of a carrot on a beach is implied to be a drawback for her paired artestant. Because…it’ll undermine the sculpture of a vagina violently turning into a candy cane that she was envisioning…and will do regardless? There was an episode not 3 weeks ago where they convert “kitsch” artworks into “conventional” artworks. Lest we forget! Meh, at least we have an excuse to see everyone as children. Turns out, they were all adorbs.

Work of Art is a show filled with tensions — scholcky/sophisticated, inspiring/contrived, surprising/orderly — and thus, much like a good work of art, I am at least passively interested in it. I don’t think there’s one reading. Actually, sometimes I think this show is genius. With all that in mind, it’s a television show featuring real artists, and it’s thus patently absurd. Just look at any of the segments in the middle of the show, where the mentor (in this case Simone de Pury, real-life auction house expert) walks around commenting on the unfinished projects. It’s hard not to compare to other programs of this ilk. I find this contrived aspect of the competition genre rather different on Work of Art. Here, Simone tours the works-in-progress and makes what might seem like cogent observations…if only they weren’t about art works still in progress! I mean, to suggest that an artestant should be “worried” about his or her drawing, when it’s not even halfway finished…is useless on a level that is an order of magnitude beyond what Tom Collichio or Tim Gunn might offer. It’s not that neither of those two aren’t experts in their fields, it’s that those fields surround objects that are more ephemeral or at least can and should be shifted in process (food more so than fashion, admittedly). Whereas with a work of art, it’s really hard to tell sometimes what it’ll end up being until it’s fleshed out more. An artist would probably make several drawings before even showing them to someone else.

But I digress because honestly, I found this a rather boring episode, compared to the past few at least. Perhaps the inclusion of children [and the cuteness inherent to kid art] doomed the show, because it couldn’t really devolve to its darker (better) elements. Let’s not forget one of the [frontrunning?] artestants goes by the “super villain” name The Sucklord. The only artestant who seems to ignore the “don’t scare the children” instructions is Young, who photographs himself leaping into the air…wearing skimpy underwear. Too soon. Even I was a little miffed. Plus, there were no boobs or vag to compliment. That’s half of why we’re watching this.

So how were the finalists? I really wish we hear what the judges think of all of the artestants, especially as their numbers dwindle. Like how one totally rips off Cy Twombly (may he rest in peace). It’s called a “critique” after all. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to have less of the filler and more talking about the art?

Well, I’ll get to the finished pieces in a second, but I just wanted to first insert without comment the byline Sarah Jessica Parker (who is the executive producer of this show) receives when she’s introduced as this week’s seemingly out-of-nowhere guest judge:

“Member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities”

The Winners! (…?)

Dusty: I think he probably was among the luckiest in that his kid’s piece was inherently sort of interesting. That Dusty simply scales it up and recreates it out of wood doesn’t seem like a good sign. Plus, there’s something very early 80’s bad Pop Art about it to me. It’s like the bastard child of Louise Nevelson and James Rosenquist, if that child then went on to be raised by Marisol. A lot of questions are unanswered, such as why are the door halves sometimes black and white vs. color, and why do the bottom two doors remain constantly open (because he didn’t build into them the ability to stay closed?), but perhaps there just wasn’t enough time with the editing.

Kymia: Despite the seemingly disastrous source material (a carrot on the beach! oh my!), I really do like Kymia’s drawing. It’s large, elaborate, layered, naughty, and just plain weird. At the same time it truly is beautiful. I could easily see this expanding to a whole range of other works. If this were for sale at a flea market for $150 I would totally buy it. Mostly, I appreciate that Kymia isn’t taking these challenges and branching into mediums (like video, which they all seem to try at least once, for some reason) she’s unfamiliar with just to “get an edge” over the other artestants or to “wow the judges” with her daring approaches. No, she’s just straight up thinking, “OK, so yah, I’m gonna go ahead and do another detailed ink drawing…because I’m good at those.” And she’s the WINNER, but was there really any doubt? Apparently, her work will be sold at an upcoming Phillips auction. I’m guessing the mid-season sale (AKA, the crap).

The Losers?

Sara: She immediately begins to cry, but I have no sympathy. Her mixed media pieces are pretty boring. I have no connection. They’re the sort of fake-art you’d expect to see in a restaurant that’s trying too hard to be edgy. Zelda (cool kid name, by the way) really did have the more interesting creation. Sara took something that was pretty open-ended — basically just words arranged in a colorful grid on a huge piece of paper — and loaded it with a subject way too complex and personally meaningful, divorce, to probably ever come across as something worth viewing after only a matter of hours of work. China actually had a rather rare moment of apt critique when she said, “it’s too spelled out.” I choose to believe some intern whispered that into her earpiece. He/she is right. Divorce is the kind of thing that Sara should work through for weeks and weeks, maybe repetitively creating these collages in her studio by herself, until something transcendent and more interesting comes out of it. Yes, divorce is sad and relatable to many, but it’s too heavy to really hash out in the context of this show. Maybe I’m being too harsh, since she needed to make something, but she also broke two of the cardinal rules of art school: 1) If you can’t think of something good, then make it big, and make it red; and 2) If you have to overly explain every detail of the piece for the viewer to get anything out of it, you’ve failed.

The Sucklord: For some reason, he attached himself to his little girl, who admittedly seemed pretty cool. I have no idea what this bizarre tree with painted-over actions figures was supposed to be, but I know it wasn’t what The ‘lord intended. Yet again, I have absolutely no investment with him. Why do I care? What is he really known for? Why does he keep making things that look crappy, literally? Is he truly untrained in the traditional mediums?

Tews: Another vegetable inspiration! But this time, it goes horribly wrong. Why is the concrete a word? Why not just like, some other shape? A building maybe? One judge comments that it “has a bit of a PSA quality to it,” and I agree. That’s exactly what it looks like. Still, we’re treated to a “bad ass” moment where The Sucklord steps on the judges’ lines, advocating in favor of Tews. This should happen more often! You know who are totally qualified and motivated enough to critique the artist’s work (especially those in progress)? Other artist! It’s sort…the way it works in real life. Crazy! Here you have it, Bravo, the ingredients for a show that’s both interesting yet realistic. Don’t screw this up! If only it were one of the better artists defending better art, perhaps this point would come across. Regardless, I appreciate that the show doesn’t capitalize on the artestants’ differences; they legitimately seem to all enjoy and/or appreciate each other, just as I’d imagine they would in real life. Either SJP agrees, or she’s really good at hate-smiling. Maybe both. And Tews is the LOSER!

P.S. Jerry Saltz really comes off as a jerk in this episode. Having never met him, I choose to believe he’s a nice guy in real life who probably has so few buzz-worthy moments (rather, many thoughtful but boring-for-TV ones) that only the really edgy ones make the cut.


3 thoughts on “Work of Art: Season 2, Episode 4

  1. […] not have been visited by Jerry Saltz, and he had some things to say about my recap, as can be read here. Obviously, we’re flattered here at BTYM, and we want nothing more than to hear what you all […]

  2. Anonymous says:

    Dear Mr. or Ms. Jerch;
    Thank you for your Work of Art recap. I think it is very well-written.
    It what ways did I “come off as a jerk in this episode?” Please list them. Really. I need to learn this.
    I am not sure what you mean when you write that I do not have many “buzz-worthy momnets.”
    I often think I am almost always buzzed. But maybe you are right, mine are only “thoughtful but boring-for-TV ones.”
    You could be right.
    Thank you,
    Jerry Saltz

    • Jerch says:

      Sadly (sadly?), there is no Ms. Jerch. Maybe my words weren’t so cleanly chosen, but I stand by the thought. I think the judging portion is much too small a part of the episodes. We spend way too much time seeing how everything is being made (though, this IS interesting). I think that time could be better spent hearing what the judges (including Mr. or Ms. Saltz, if that’s who you really are) and then the artists themselves think. Instead each judge is typically allotted one or two lines per artwork, and indeed I do think the tone comes off hyperbolic — both positive and negative. My complaint isn’t really what the opinions of the judges are (although, obviously, we’re allowed to each have our own thoughts) but rather how the production of the show portrays them. Of course I’m not there during filming, but my imagination is that everyone has lots to say, and then only the most “buzz-worthy” snippets are chosen to actually air. I will watch the episode again and list the parts where I think Jerry came off sounding like a jerk. Did you have any other thoughts about the rest of the recap?

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