To those who find artists competing on a reality show on which their work is held to a single arbitrary standard and they're dismissed with the phrase, "Your work of art didn't work for us" inherently problematic: lighten up, nerd!
By now you're probably aware that Bravo's latest high-low competition, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, is produced by Sarah Jessica Parker. It's a standard-issue format: 14 artists, who work in a variety of styles and media, compete for $100,000 and a show at the Brooklyn Museum.
Despite the fact that this seems unlikely to bring the putative winner much respectable renown - especially amongst those who've come through more conventional channels - the show's participants do have a certain amount of professional credibility in the art world: judges include gallery owners Jeanne Rohatyn Greenberg and Bill Powers as well as New York magazine critic Jerry Saltz. The Tim Gunn role will be played by auction house chairman Simon de Pury. (SJP and former partygirl host China Chow are another matter, but hey, they gotta put bodies in the seats, I guess, and both women claim to be art lovers.)
As on Runway, the competitors have to make "art" really fast - leaving aside that this has nothing to do with what being an artist entails. "In a split second I can tell whether a work of art is great or not," de Pury apparently says, which would seem to leave out anything remotely conceptual. Not an issue for the first challenge, in which the contestants have to do portraits of each other.
The premise is, of course, at best goofy and at worst offensive. It probably signals something terrible about the culture, although maybe it's just another illustration of the age-old Art/Commerce battle in particularly farcical terms. As artist Ross Bleckner explains on The Daily Beast, "The show doesn't make you want to be an artist because "making it," according to this formula, requires competitiveness and pandering to a small cabal of teacher-judges, the so-called experts, who bark "time's up!"" On the other hand, art critic Doug MacCash writes,
As a serious-minded professional art critic, I know in my heart I'm supposed to have nothing but icy disdain for this show. I mean, how dare Sarah Jessica reduce the sacred act of art-making to a crass commercially driven winner-takes-all contest? Has she no soul? Truth is, the lives of professional artists are a series of contests, as they vie for placement in university art departments, exhibits and galleries. And as far as commercialization is concerned, it would be hard to dispute that from Jackson Square to Julia Street, art is already a for-profit enterprise - at least, most artists would like it to be. Popularity is a good thing.
As to the question, "is it entertaining?" Well, the Daily News calls it, "in its own modest way, fun." Presumably the creators envisioned "artists" making for an especially colorful mix, what with their penchants for urinating in fireplaces, living large, and chopping off ears. But given the show's format, it sounds like it would work a lot better with a bunch of aspiring Bob Rosses than Francis Bacons. (That could make for a pretty good show, actually.) While Bravo clearly intends this as a corollary to respectable reality offerings like Runway or Top Chef, one's put more in mind of another of the network's shows - that episode in which real housewives of Atlanta for some reason art-directed a photoshoot. Sadly, that made a lot more sense.
Five Minutes With China Chow [W]
Piece Of Work Character On 'Work of Art' Will Likely Draw Viewers To Bravo's New Reality TV Show [NY Daily News]
SJP Tries Reality TV [The Daily Beast]
Art Critic Reviews Sarah Jessica Parker's "Work Of Art: The Next Great Artist" [Nola]