There is a Bravo show called Work of Art: The Search for the Next Great Artist. As we’ve told you before, it’s a reality-TV competition ostensibly about searching every gallery nook and gutter grate for America’s Next Great Artist–not a Very Good Artist or an Eventual Great Artist or even anything superlative and exonerated like America’s Next Best Artist, but simply a Great One, which is good enough for TV. Sarah Jessica Parker produces. A very pretty lady named China Chow hosts. The judges are important art-world people like Bill Powers, who co-owns the Lower East Side’s Half Gallery with James Frey (yes, that James Frey) and Kate Spade CEO Andy Spade, and New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz, who I once sat beside in an editorial meeting at the Village Voice once or twice and seems like the kind of guy who would not find such juvenile asides amusing. The second season’s premiere aired last night.
I know, I don’t have Cable either.
So here’s what you need to know about Work of Art. Framed like Project Runway and Top Chef, each episode tasks contestants to a great work of art, focused on a central theme, in a short time period. Their completed pieces hang in a gallery show, which celebrities sometimes attend (tonight’s episode featured a cameo from art provocateur Ron English), and then the judges analyze the successes and the failures, and the biggest failure goes home.
Meet the Work of Art’s 14 Contestants*
(in the order that they appear on the show’s credits)
Michelle. Michelle! She almost died in a horrible Greenpoint bike accident that took place 10 days shy of a year ago today. The cops found the car that hit her abandoned nearby, with her blood and guts all over it, and when the 94th PRECINCT NYPD detective questioned the car owner, the owner claimed he lost his keys at a bar and walked home, and the police just went, oh well, at least your alive, lady, stop calling us. Sound familiar? That’s because it was the subject of a Village Voice cover story from August. Team Michelle!
Young. Performance artist whose father recently died. Seems like he needs a very big hug. He is gay and Asian.
Kymia. Young woman with eyeliner and a name that sounds like an STD. Assures camera that even though she appears “bubbly,” she has “a very dark interior.” Beat-boxes in a sequined dress.
Tewz. Street artist from Chicago. Wears knit caps. Stencils his name on the screen in the opening credits. The kind of guy who’d be leaning on the fridge when you go to grab a beer at a Bushwick party. Looks like the friends of your friends.
Sarah with an H. There is a “Sarah” and a “Sara” this season. Yuck.
Ugo. Tall, dark, handsome, and French. His art rips off Keith Haring. Tall, dark, handsome, and French.
Kathryn. Thick-framed smart-girl glasses, tattooed sleeves, red lipstick. Best known (to me) for photographing placenta for New York Magazine. Plays with gross dead things. Will openly weep at some point this season, if the show’s trailer is to be believed.
SUCKLORD! Here’s where I tell you that I watched last night’s season premiere, live, with Sucklord. ANYWAY! We were in Brooklyn, where Sucklord’s friend K., lives. K. is best known (to me) as a rapping hobbit in the nerdcore duo Lord of the Rhymes. I’m not at liberty to tell you much else, except that there were about 15 people there, a fridgeful of beer (thanks, whoever brought the PBR, I drank four), a bucket of fried chicken, and the Sucklord shushed the room whenever the judges would offer critiques of his work. Everything else you need to know about Sucklord is here.
Lola. Wears fedora. Immediately admits to finding Sucklord attractive. Another cast member calls her a “sprightly sexpot.” Apparently, the Sucklord once photographed her naked? Perhaps it would be awkward to watch these details be revealed on national television, if say, the Sucklord’s girlfriend, who he loves very much, was sitting right in front of you? Not that that happened or anything.
Dusty. Hick schoolteacher with a mullet. All your cousins, in one guy.
Sara no H. Why do people still use baby books.
Jazz-Minh. That’s why people use baby books.
Bayete. African-American. Sweet. Terrible artist.
Leon. Malaysian-born. Deaf. Aided by an interpreter named Bill. Your mom would adore him.
*white unless specified
Tonight’s challenge: Transform a piece of “bad” kitschy art into a masterpiece.
Tonight’s guest judge: photographer Mary Ellen Mark.
High/lowlights: Young turns himself into a living interpretation of the dogs playing poker painting. Ugo rips off Keith Haring. Bayete makes a collage that’s looks like pile of hair and says it’s about race. Judge Bill Powers isn’t buying it: “Just because the topic is complex doesn’t mean your piece is complex.” Real talk.
Sucklord makes a Lord of the Rings toy. Asked to defend the work, he explains that he morphed “a crappy two-dimensional rendition of a stupid wizard” into a “crappy three-dimensional version of a stupid wizard.” Jerry Saltz does not like it. Mary Ellen Mark does. The following dialogue ensues:
Mary Ellen Mark: “It spoke to me”
Jerry Saltz: “What did it say?”
Mary Ellen Mark: “It said, ‘Look at me.'”
Mary Ellen Mark saves Sucklord, along with his undeniably magnetic character. Ugo, the tall, dark, and handsome Frenchman, goes home. Michelle does something with an eagle and a totem and wins!
The takeaway: On Work of Art‘s first season, this very nice young fellow named Abdi won, and that was very lovely and stuff, but the “breakout character” was an impishly manipulative and baggy-eyed twentysomething named Miles who when presented with the show’s official challenges and the accompanying strict time-table, often went to sleep. No, really, he would very poutily be like, I’m overwhelmed, I’m going to sleep, and curl up in a ball, right there with the cameras rolling and everyone else would scowl. Then–poof!–he’d awake with a magical idea, pull out big tools, make up some story about the deep meaning behind his installation, and wow the judges. (One time, by dispensing conceptual mumbo-jumbo, Miles conned a female cast member into posing naked and masturbating for a challenge.)
Miles didn’t win, but Bill Powers gave him a solo show at Half Gallery off-camera, and he seems like he’ll have a nice life and a profitable art career.
Prediction for this year’s real winner: the Sucklord.