Last week we may or may 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 think. Well, we want lots of things, but maybe that’s not what we want the most, but it’s totes up there.
Anyway, maybe what Mr. Saltz picked up on was the sense that I’m very passionate about this show, which I truly am. I think Work of Art is at times exceptional in its crapitude yet more often presents moments where art is talked about on levels rare for television. Perhaps more importantly, I think it’s entertaining and plainly weird. This week the artestants begin with a visit to what I imagined to be a pretty interesting starting point: The New York Times newspaper factory.
Sure enough they literally rip their ideas straight from the headlines of The Times. Aside from the perhaps unfunny pun involved, I think this is actually a really great idea for a challenge. I probably would have been very interested if this were an assignment in art school. Of course many of the artestants choose really heavy topics like death, madness, and even the meta subject of disillusionment with art itself.
I’m very glad we get to hear about Ai Weiwei’s plight in China. Obviously, I’m not happy about the plight itself, rather I appreciate the fairly esoteric reference to a story that’s actually extremely important in the art world. I could be wrong, but it is maybe the first time (surely, personally at least) that this horrible story has been mentioned on television. We’ve come a long way since the infamous Lexus challenge of last season. Good for you, Work of Art. My only real complaint with the premise is that they must physically incorporate the image of a newspaper in their finished piece. Maybe the worry was that the general viewership wouldn’t understand and/or appreciate the concept without a literal connection to The Times.
During Simone’s rounds — or as I like to think of it, the process segment of the episode — there’s an amusing moment where The Sucklord is chastised for not transforming the newspaper enough, as if the producers have already forgotten that they are forcing the artestants to use a physical newspaper somehow. I totally understand the judges’ critique that The Sucklord doesn’t transform his objects enough (rather, he typically will glue or layer iconographic objects together without adding clear commentary), but what is hilarious is that that is literally the supposed goal of this project. But more importantly, I’m beginning to disagree that an artist simply must be transformative in his/her/zhim process. Couldn’t The Sucklord be a very figurative artist? Or an abstract artist? Or whatever? Not to diminish my point, but certainly The Sucklord is not the best example to illustrate this, since I really do think he’s actually quite terrible. That’s not so much a gripe with Work of Art (other than, I suppose, choosing him in the first place) because at least the judges are trying to help him in their critiques. I don’t know if that comes off so much in the production of the show, but I accept that that was their motivation in the crits.
So clearly I think this challenge, and by proxy this episode, was altogether rather successful. The headline requirement forced the artestants to create pieces that were both personal yet relatable — not a terrible way to approach art-making. While requiring the image of the newspaper to appear in the final pieces wouldn’t have been my choice, at least in the context of a competition-based reality television show it leveled the playing field.
So how did the winners and losers do? It’s entirely subjective, obviously, but you knew that already.
Young: Like I said, I appreciate Young’s concept. Ai Weiwei really did go to jail for protesting against the Chinese government, despite being a national treasure and, oh by the way, an internationally adored/recognized artist. If only this piece weren’t so obviously commenting on Robert Gober at the same time, I might have cared more for this particular object. Rather, of course Young is allowed to directly reference Gober (and it would be laughable to say that he wasn’t), but we don’t actually hear that discussion, which is sad. How hard would it have been to insert a mention? Earlier we even hear of Rauschenberg, and it was in comparison to a failed Sucklord piece no less. THE WINNER!
Dusty: Um, so I definitely didn’t hate this piece by any means, but I also found it sort of mundane. He made something that, to me, was maybe a little too polished or a little too on target. It’s like he took the challenge/art school assignment and made something that was neither inappropriate yet also not challenging. A solid B. It’s a recreation of the geography of the United States with some silhouettes added in. What more is there to say, really? I of course really appreciated Dusty’s similarly austere aesthetic not too long ago when he made a trash can, so I guess I’m glad he didn’t win…but I have my eye on you!
Lola: Lola’s piece was the only one for which I couldn’t really determine immediately whether I liked, didn’t care about, or outright hated it. It looks like it really requires a close-up and in-person inspection to understand, since after all it’s composed mostly of detailed pencil drawings. There is definitely something unfinished about it, but on the other hand that isn’t necessarily bad. Plus, I enjoyed her use of the white wall podium thing (which, by the way, is sort of bizarre and not something I expect at a gallery or museum) in the installation of the various elements. Actually, I think it’s maybe unfair to judge this piece on television at all. I will say, though, that I agree with and appreciate her explanation, which maybe didn’t need to have even been said out loud since — at the time at least — it was immediately clear she was talking about the Libyan rebels.
The Sucklord: Yah, I mean…money and oil. It’s not necessarily the wrong way to take things on a conceptual level, but it’s just so obvious in the execution. Did he really think about this? He even admits to not really knowing why he went that direction. He has lost his way, perhaps through no fault of his own. The Sucklord took the judges’ earlier advice to be more transformative, but in doing so ironically made something very literal. Oil = Money. Money = Oil. Is there more to this?
Sarah: Wow, I liked this piece. I don’t think it deserved to be in the bottom. It seems to work both in close-up and backed away. It’s textual yet graphical. I like the little text element at the top right. Her piece is quirky. The judges seem to critique most of all Sarah’s inability to tell a story. Again, maybe it’s the production of the show that’s at fault [for editing out more thoughtful and underlining criticisms], but all I have to go on is what’s broadcast on Bravo. I am to care that I can’t look at Sarah’s piece and glean the original headline? I don’t fucking care about that! What am I, curating a show about newspaper headline-derived pieces? It’s here where the challenges break down. They’re both helpful for the artestants in that they give goals and deadlines (and thus, help narrow the ideas), yet totally pointless when judging the finished pieces, since artists in real life aren’t required to fit molds in such a coldly artificial sense. In fact I think she hardly looses the textual background. The problem is that she doesn’t visualize the story for the viewer? Boy, do I not care. Jerry, if I’m totally misreading the critiques, please let me know!
Bayette: I definitely didn’t hate his doors, although there was some sort of Sherrie Levine reference in there somewhere that once again goes unmentioned. The judges have very little to say, other than that he didn’t paint the right side of the door/the doors are flipped. Um, that’s bad? Is the challenge to build a door? I must have missed Simone mentioning that. I don’t really have much to agree or disagree with, which is perhaps damning for Bayette. Or encouraging? Ohh, this show! It didn’t get my juices flowing, frankly. Still, I imagine the scale and color alone were interesting in person. Nevermind that the message indeed is unclear. THE LOSER!