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Everyone I know that watches this show is very excited about tonight’s beatification of the “Next Great Artist”. For many of us who don’t watch “Survivor” or “America’s Top Model” and similar competitions, this is our introductory experience of the cheap thrill of this brand of cultural sport. Nail biting, cliff hanging, soap-operatic suspense. Whee.

I could charitably say that the show successfully recognized, on a mass-media scale, the art making process as something legitimate and as fascinating and ignoble as modeling, sewing, or chopping wood. Heretofore, of course, art-making and artists, especially of the avant-garde stripe, have been depicted as psychotic buffoons or occasionally, with a frequent criminal pathology (films like Bucket of Blood and Lipstick - the artist a homicidal kind of fella). But in accomplishing this, the cavalcade has had to make it all a contest, which pulverizes the concept of the rugged individual and replaces it with a homogenized, vague, frequently smarmy, sometimes cute, sometimes phony, profound, and always self-delusional, self-important ideal. But that’s life and that’s art and as they say at the Brooklyn Museum - “Tough shit”.

Nobody I know wants Miles to win but many expect he will. Abdi is the most affable but that is also his deficit and his fate was somewhat sealed in the “Childhood” themed installment when he asked the judges the earnest but mortifying queries “What should I do? What do you want?” We here in SF are all rooting for the local gal, Peregrine, veteran of Project Artaud childhood and the darling of Alabama Street. I’m predicting that she has already won for no other reason that Simon may have slipped on Good Morning America last Sunday, and referred to “her” show at his gallery.

So here we go, written in real time, 10 pm PST:

The first segment finds Simon meeting each of the three finalists on their own turf on a series of long distance studio visits. The first lucky soul is Peregrine in Kansas City, Mo:

• Twin Fawn sculpture! We have winner! But maybe not yet. Her domestic situation seems to be a circle of love and support co-starring her husband, who is a musician that builds his own wind instruments. Nice. It seems as all the bothersome mischief by the adults of her bohemian upbringing has left her no worse for wear and she still feels happiest in a suitable funky creative environment. 

•Next Simon sprints over to Andover, PA, to check on Abdi in his element. First we notice he has a great Mom. Doesn’t need to win! And then it begins: Simon commences to turn the screws and announced the rough version of his upcoming show at Simon’s gallery is mildly disappointing. But Abdi seems to flourish on such sadism so we’ll let them be.

• Finally Simon whisks away to Minneapolis to cheer on, or dress down Miles. Miles’ current project involves the manipulation of surveillance footage from White Castle and is adding up to one big stinking capitalized MEH. But that’s hardly the last of the misery he intends to inflict - we have to meet the parental units. Nothing really to say about this encounter except he predictably has the most comfortable home life of the three, snuggled in a glowing ruby red, christmas cheer encrusted suburban home straight out of Thomas Kinkade’s’ colonoscopy. Why I am like this? They made me this way.

On to the installation of the show at the Simon de Pury Gallery in Gotham!

• Abdi’s install is becoming a performance for the camera - a heartbreaking nightmare I actually have every week or so - where various body parts are falling away from me like rotten fruit. His plaster sculptures are shattering and disassembling themselves in front of his eyes and the panic is popping out palatable. I don’t think he should win but I hope it won’t end this way for him.

• The opening reception chunk of the show is less than illuminating - like any real life opening. The judges insist on giving routine insipid unsolicited discourse. The only one I feel like giving a pass to is the newly emerged executive producer, Sarah Jessica Parker because whatever is wrong with her clearly isn’t her fault. I certainly won’t miss these uninvited voices rattling in my head stubbornly immune to my meds.

• The hit of the show seems to be the spectacle of a splayed State Fair created by Peregrine with her discreet pieces scattered… let just say, “artfully” about her allotted space. Each piece is quite autonomous and yet the whole gets preciously close to that elusive equation where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Except sadly, there are too many parts. There they are, her whole menagerie - the florescent sparkle pony, the nestled yin/yang fawn fetuses, even a cotton candy machine. A forest of wax creatures ready to melt themselves and your heart. A delicious cocktail of the adorable, shameless sentiment and guilt-free perversion. If you ever need a PR man, Peregrine, call me!

On to the critique…

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT - SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN

• Miles is telling the frozen homeless man story for the third time. His piece has not evolved a jot since we first saw it back in the his mid-west studio. He is pronounced a “real artist” by the jury but is the first to lose. His slumping, rejected shuffle-exit stage left is as insincere as his work.

• And after close-up, reverse close-up, an interminable volley of sweating heads and biting lips: Its Abdi. He wins. Yes, it’s a disappointment for us Peregrinners but also it’s the problem that has variegated through the show from the first episode. The willingness to please - while seeming not to - is always a solid formula for the accolades of approval. Abdi’s work, whose melodrama was condemned a few moments earlier - by Saltz I believe - in the judge’s private confab, suddenly is as irresistible as it is desperate to gratify. They’re works depicting the pain of humanity, yes, and facilitates an empathy in the viewer, but also commodifies the Weltschmerz into a congenial and judicious souvenir. Trauma and tragedy suitable for a commercial gallery.

While Abdi deserved to win as much as Peregrine, she would have never allowed a hunger for endorsement to be so conspicuous. Her process was much more sublime and presented with elegance and ingenuity, while Abdi went for a more contrived theatrical flow that robbed the audience of any chance for discovery. His work was telegraphed which is not surprising in our culture, which apparently has better uses for irony and deference than to waste it on art.

Abdi’s winning is our loss because once again the critics, judges and mentors are the real stars in their own eyes. Because they pushed and guided him so vigorously and he was the most compliant to their suggestions and the most eager to satisfy. “You’re Nothing without us, Abdi” they say, cementing their expertise (and their egos) and their status as gatekeepers. And so the whole cycle of co-dependency, punishment and reward spins endlessly into a middling, predictable experience. Apparently it’s here to stay, at least in the broader art world.

At the end of the show solicitations for auditioning new hopefuls are promised on Bravo’s web site. So there will be a second season. Not sure I can keep up the bitch that much longer. 

Dale Hoyt , 8/12/10

- Dale Hoyt [Friday, August 13th, 2010]

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