12 June 2010


(the full show can be watched on hulu).

despite a brief love affair with "so you think you can dance" & a random obsession with the miami cast of "the real world", i am not typically a fan of reality shows.  in fact, one of the main reasons i abstain from having cable television in my home is reality tv (okay, & an obsessive-compulsive issue with cnn).  but i am a total artfag, so when i happened to catch internet-wind that bravo's newest reality program is all about art, i absolutely had to watch it.

"work of art: the next great artist" is much like its predecessors, "project runway" or that hair one i never can remember.  that is, it follows a pretty basic formula in which several competitors face challenges, & then judges boot them off until there's only one person left.  in this case, it's a bunch of artists of various kinds--though most of them seem to be predominantly (realist) painters.

i knew it was going to be a competition of sorts before i even sat down to watch the show, so it shouldn't have surprised me.  & it didn't.  but it did sort of sicken me a little.  probably in part because i identify as a performance artist foremost, i am must more invested in a politics of collaboration than one of competition.  on a practical level, however, i do believe that because we are entrenched in a capitalist system, artists need to, & should be able to, make a living from their work... which will probably include at least a little competition for positions in galleries & the like.  in that way, i think it's pretty awesome that bravo is giving a gallery show to the winner, not to mention the exposure of appearing on the show in the first place.  especially since some of these artists  haven't broken into the art world yet.

the first challenge seemed simple enough: make a portrait of one of the other artists randomly picked for you.  i would think this would be a good opportunity for each artist to present their unique style, but after the feedback from the judges, i am more than disappointed in the show.  two of the three artists who chose to do non-representational pieces were simply told that their pieces were not "portraits."  end of discussion. the focus on representational art works, even for a first episode, was disheartening at best.  especially considering that one of the artists on the show, nao, is a performance artist who stepped out of her box to do a 2-d piece.

now i am certainly no expert on art, & i don't claim to be.  but i have read my fair share of art criticism & theory due to being a performance studies major interested in performance art, so i'd like to take a moment to talk about some of the pieces done on the show.

this piece (left), by an artist named abdi, is one piece that got a lot of positive feedback, & i can't say i disagree.  the vertical movement upward in the lines of the neck and the direction of the facial features makes it an interesting piece to look at.  not to mention, it was huge, & in the gallery, the colours made it stand head & shoulders above the rest in terms of attracting attention.  & frankly, in the few short hours they had to work, i think it shows a great deal of ability.

this is the piece that lost (right).  the painter, amanda, was sent home already.  this is also one of the pieces the judges said isn't a "portrait."  yet amanda is a self-identified  abstract artist, & conceptually this piece is interesting.  though the picture here doesn't do it justice, she's working with interesting pattern, as well as a huge amount of detail & texture.  it isn't one of my favourites, but i certainly didn't think amanda deserved to be sent home.

& this is the piece that won (left).  you can't tell in this picture, but it's a screen printing with plastic hanging around the sides and bottom of the frame.  the artist, miles, pulled on tropes from historical death photography to set-up the original photo that was then used to expose screens for printing. the image is striking, & the plastic creates an interesting effect in & of itself.  he was also well-spoken about it's conceptual basis, which i appreciated.  on the other hand, part of me really thinks it just looks like a hipster tshirt.  maybe i'm not being generous enough.  it's good; i'm just not sure it was the best.

this is the second of the non-respresentational pieces that got ripped on by the judges (right).  they said that it's not a portrait, because it's just a minimalist painting.  however, i think it's probably one of the most conceptually interesting pieces that got put together.  to do this, nao mapped out miles' movements in the studio as he worked, literally creating a map of his artistic process.  then she attached it to a frame upside down & put a light behind it so that the lines were fainter than the bleed-through of the dots--which were the spaces he paused in his movements.  perhaps it is just my fondness for deleuze & guattari's concept  of mapping that draws me to this, but regardless, i think her execution was interesting, thoughtful, & unique.  i was a little put off when she told the judges that their experience of her work was not her responsibility, but i can see why she would be a little defensive/angry at their dismissal.

this is the third non-representational piece, done by judith.  this is the only one that did not receive harsh critique. if you can't read it, it says, "proud pussy."  apparently, she got known for a series of kitten/cat photos with "(adjective) pussy" captions.  which is interesting.  or at least, it was when she did it before.  but i don't see how this is any more a portrait than the other pieces, especially as its not even as  conceptually interesting.  not to mention, it looks like a cheap mall airbrush tshirt.  & yes, it was done with stencils.  i am unimpressed.

there were other pieces, of course, some of which i liked and some i didn't.  largely, i think the show is somewhat distasteful in its politic & orientation towards modernist aesthetics.  but i'm pretty unabashedly po-mo, i realize.  in the end, i'll probably keep watching it just to see what gets created.  at the very least, i might see some cool art.

all images taken from the bravo website for the show.

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