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
This is the penultimate show before the crowning of the poor slob/saint who will make it through this hazing into the ever more imaginary world called art. The solo show at the Brooklyn Art Museum becomes more and more real, a plum prize the back story of which finds a trustee of that institution, Martin Baumrind, resigning in disgust. And of course he was right. What might have been a legitimate show would have been an exhibit of artifacts, ephemera and pieces from the whole gang: Nao’s “mask of shit”, Jaclyn’s rough draft self portraits with Miles’ fingerprints all over them, Mark’s self revelatory collaboration with Peregrine that got him a one way ticket home to New Jersey, Nicole’s failed homage to Jonathan Borofsky. Models, sketches and notes from the producers. Something like the present Pixar show at the Oakland museum. But a phenomena like this is never going to allow such transparency and appraisal. For all its bogus investment in some kind of verisimilitude, reality TV is as big a slab of artifice as any trompe l’oeil trickery.
• This would seem to be the “back-to-nature” or at least “back-to-real estate” episode. They’re dumped in a Connecticut forest where they’re instructed to gather any materials from the earth itself - twigs leaves, mud, zzzzzzzzz…. oops, sorry - except “nothing with a heartbeat”. So I guess they can still use Jerry Saltz.
• But isn’t this the 21st Century? After Hurricane Katrina, global warming, and bed bugs, how can anyone still be so goofy for nature? I mean seriously, haven’t they SEEN “Deliverance”? Haven’t they SEEN reruns of the Sopranos? You NEVER go into the woods. NEVER.
• “All evil begins in nature” - Lars Van Tier
• Jaclyn has the right attitude, which is that it’s too cold to take her clothes off so fuck it. She’s now in trouble because she suggests using an image that she created on “off time” and the group, especially the usually serene Nicole, is having kittens. Besides, she does have a cold and I believe her.
• Abdi is trying to really get back to basics by creating his own pigment from mother earth which is kind of cool. Beats Flax. And speaking of Flax…
• I’m just realizing that they’re leaving out my favorite part; The trip to the stores! I have a good friend who owns a large condo on Nob Hill and yet even he can’t bring himself to spend his cash at the prices you find at most art supply stores. So even he thinks nothing of shoplifting from Utrecht and Flax and frequently leaves with a bag of Titanium White, Lamp Black, Cadmium Orange, Colbalt Green, Alizarin Crimson tubes and maybe an occasional pocket reader or laminated bookmark. Like a National Enquirer at the grocery store, he says “it just JUMPED in my bag”!
I also have to chuckle when the contestants get a HUNDRED BUCKS to shop at a midtown Manhattan Utrecht store. In my experience, that will buy you some balsa wood, a couple sheets of foamcore, a box cutter for some self mutilation later that night and maybe some rubber cement to huff and set fire to, to make for a lovely evening. The hardware store budget is a little more realistic and would inspire me to go straight to the nailgun department and start letting the nails fly.
• Just got back from Flax by the way, where I was examining a $475 easel and was reminded of Gary Shandling’s comment to a digital watch salesman who tried to sell him a $4000 piece. “But it performs 36 functions” the salesman insists to which Shandling replied “For $4000 I’ll tell you what one of the functions it better perform…”
• Also just realized something kind of baffling about this show: what exactly is the time represented by this series? How many weeks did this whole process take? Is that ever disclosed? What function is the manipulation of time and duration playing? Since it’s TV we can rest assured it’s deliberate.
•A quick scan of any TV listing on a given day reveals a surfeit of reality programs: shows about lumberjacks, truck drivers, pawn store owners and of course models, designers, housewives and now artists. With all the occupations being taken, they’ll have to start mixing and matching tantalizing combos. I recommend “Work Of Art” meets “Cat Hoarders’ on “Animal Planet”. That would be edifying.
• “The Last Show” seems to be the phrase of the moment. What will happen in the finale? Without a “challenge” what will be the criteria and the events that will fulfill that criteria? This is the part of the Reality TV arc that still remains a mystery to me.
OKAY, SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD!
• I can’t tell you how much I hate the syntactical strategy of the pauses and reaction shots of faces as they announce the winner. Its such a cheat, like double-spacing or 18 point fonts in a term paper.
• Abdi did a proto-masterpiece with his invented pigment. Happy he’s staying.
• Not so happy that Mr.Teflon, Miles, that strange boy/alpha male of some unknown species (somewhere between poodles and meerkats), and his recent opus “Fungus Study # 1” earned another week.
• Jaclyn finally did a substantial, sublime, conceptual/minimalist work (at the last minute with a cold no less) but she forgot to show her hooters. She was of course discarded.
• Nicole is out. I was hoping she’d be a dark horse.
And so we spiral onward and downward, to the last episode next week. We’ve almost lived through it.
But don’t speak to soon…
This miserable decalogue is almost done and has clearly taken its toll on the remaining six contestants. I feel compelled to go a little easier on them as their humanity becomes a little more perceptible. The judges though remain as abominable and detestable as ever. A guest judge, artist Ryan McGinness, while charming and worshiped by several of the aspirants, turns out to be something less than lucid.
• The less and less helpful Simon and China get right to the point and assign this week’s task: explore a dialectic - Order/Chaos, Male/Female, Heaven/Hell. It also is to be an exercise in collaboration pairing up the last six into three duos. It’s the toughest errand yet and is further complicated by Simon and China’s cluelessness as to what they really want. The classic profile of producer.
• Mark is my new favorite. Peregrine is painstakingly torturing the poor man, her partner, and insisting that he document his wince-worthy scar, the result of a childhood medical calamity where “his stomach exploded”.
• Miles is getting a little pervy and that seems to be OK with “saucy” Jaclyn who has oddly resigned to being objectified by the world with her help. An underachieving narcissist.
• Who’s going to break it to Abdi that he’s thinking of “Plato’s Cave” not Socrates. Another teachable moment wasted.
• A “bumper” sequence finds a very mean-spirited montage intercutting each artist talking in their earnest jargon creating a deluge of babble. At least that’s what was the supercilious intentioned producers had hoped for and yet they end up creating a kind of poetry, a rhapsody of sincerity.
• I’ve been told to avoid spoilers. Let me just say that the most generous, accommodating artist that made themselves the most vulnerable got reamed in the end. And that folks, is the over-arching lesson of this cavalcade.
• China Chow is in tears as she gives one of them the boot. An actual human emotion, emphatic no less.
• What this show needs are more sore losers.
For the last two episodes, next week and the week after, I’ll be publishing on the weekend because the potential spoilers are coming hard and fast. So don’t read unless you want the rapture of anticipation interrupted. Just watch it on-line or for you gentle cable people Bravo repeats episodes constantly.
Be strong, its almost over.
A promise is a promise.
And so here I am writing my 7th blog describing the 7th slab of “Work Of Art”. But speaking of promises, what is this spectacle promising the poor kids, young and old, who want to be artists? I wouldn’t wish being an artist on my worst enemy (cough-Sarah Jessica Parker-cough) but my God, what if that’s the only thing you can do well or the only thing you can do, period? And what if all you have in Cody, Wyoming (Jackson Pollack}, Sun Prairie Wisconsin (Georgia O’keefe), the slums of Pittsburgh, (Andy), Gallipolis, Ohio (Jenny Holzer) or Webster, Texas (Ryan Trecartin) is this sad, distorted planet promised by “World Of Art”? This is what awaits you?
You get the picture.
Other generations have suffered through cartoonish depictions of the world of culture and letters. Will the next batch of young-in’s be able to assimilate these primal scenes as well without having the inevitable heartbreak be that much more achey?
Actually forget them, what about us middle-aged people who have aged that much more faster watching this piece of shit?
Shhhh, its starting….
• The gang was just deserted at the Children’s Museum. Miles says he’s going to throw up and for once I agree with him. They are told by the grownups to use the materials there to return to their childhood memories. Of course plenty of people make art to forget their childhood but we aren’t in the running.
• We learn Peregrine was raised in “an art commune in San Francisco called ‘Project Artaud’! Her piece is a very well rendered “MY LITTLE PONY” sculpture engirdled by cigarettes made from sticks of chalk, fake joints and faux crack villas. It describes, very cleverly, a childhood populated by adults and the residuum of they’re lives and indulgences. FINALLY a decent piece of work (and a Alabama Street success story)!
• Simon just came in and told everyone that all of their childhood memories suck. What a drip. I don’t like you anymore Mr. de Pury.
• Its official, everyone hates Miles.
* I’m surfing during the commercials. And the Daily Beast reports, according to Schizotypy, Creativity, and Mating Success in Humans - Proceedings of the Royal Society artists and poets have 223% more sexual partners than people who aren’t, And thats just Jaclyn.
• Jerry Saltz just reminisced how fondly as a child he used to love to draw trolls.
• My editor has requested that I avoid spoilers. No problem. Suffice to say that it was the most trivial and yet sadistic episode yet. It seemed for a shining moment that the contestants were ready to mutiny but then their hunger for approval took charge. It’s like playing a game where the big kids change the rules at every turn during a game… until someone cries. Hey! Just like, children…
• I’ve been made sad by my best friend: television.
• And if anyone tries to take me back to my childhood, I’ll bite their lips off.
- Dale Hoyt 2:40 Am 7/22/10
1. DENIAL - Well I just skipped that one and went straight to…
2. ANGER - These ridiculous people eliminating her for the most lame, inarticulate reasons when in fact “they” (who are “they”? - more about that below) just weren’t up to the challenge. They’re a just lazy bunch, plain and simple…
3. BARGAINING - ...but China Chow and Andre Serrano loved her didn’t they? Maybe they can bring her back or appeal the judges…
4. DEPRESSION - ...but that will never happen. Art like ours will never be understood by a larger audience…
5. ACCEPTANCE - ...so I should just go on to review the 5th episode although it won’t be as fun without our girl.
Life goes on and so does this show with its inexplicable inertia. The vocabulary for these shows is so bafflingly similar (“elimination”, “Immunity”, “going home”, “challenges”) that they all seem to be covered in the same bitter tar. At this point it doesn’t seem to really matter whether this is a fashion show, design contest, dating show, achieving weight loss or “survival”. I’m tempted to apply a “medium is the message” exegesis, but that would imply that the format is an actual medium. It’s not. It’s just the latest incarnation of the heavily codified grammar of the magnificent medium of TV where content is a secondary, at best, priority. One MuLuhanism does apply though, and highlights this show’s real shortcoming. He said “Artists don’t want to be understood ... they want to believed!” and that’s the problem here: This little pageant simply does not have a whole lot of believers.*
The archetypes that the show is trying to construct would be more distinct if any of the contestants had any detectable personalities, but alas, all of them - ALL OF THEM - seem to be aiming for the star “Valley Girl” in the constellation of “Duuuude”. And as the clock ticks away, it gets more and more painful seeing these children groping and clawing for the validation from the parade of slinky, sleazy, vulgar grown-ups. Miles and Nichole have a budding romance, obviously, which is a narrative development that only manages to remind us how little appeal and empathy this crew inspires. As far as a narrative goes, I’ll quote what Roger Ebert has said in countless movie reviews: “You really don’t care what happens to these people”.
This week’s episode would seem to be a lesson in corporate sponsorship - specifically, the Audi car company, and once again, a vaguely relevant theme is steered, pardon the pun, as far afield as possible. Jaclyn** continues to explore her inner Cindy Sherman self, objectifying herself and then pretending to be horrified when it actually works. Her insufferably didactic essay wall piece on the Male Gaze is as lazy and over wrought as any undergrad student project I’ve ever seen anywhere. The judges loved it and made her the night’s winner. Sigh….
The rest of the cast of characters remained banal and dull as dishwater. Mop Top narcissist Ryan is study in wilting pertinence while Abdi doesn’t know what to do with last week’s success. The only hero in this installment is Miles who concocts an ambitious minimalistic urban utopic installation that uncharacteristically, the panel also saw as valuable and anointed him as first runner up of the evening. I will however confess to having developed affection for the “mentor”, avuncular Simon de Pury. Especially when he is discussing “photo-gwaphs”.
At show’s end, Jamie “Bible Girl”, who personally I felt a little protective of, got sent home. Not at all surprising considering the Godless, soulless process that she and her peers are being squeezed through.
And as to who the aforementioned “they” are, their identity was discovered and isolated by David Lawrence in this quote from the show’s closing credits - “Winning and elimination decisions were made by the Judges in consultation with producers. Some elimination decisions were discussed with Bravo.” Democracy? Meritocracy? No we’re all out ma’am.
*In honor of the departed Bible Girl Jamie I’ll quote St Francis of Assisi: “May I seek to understand rather than to be understood.”
**The only worth-while gossip developing in the show is that Jaclyn is developing a reputation as being an idea stealer. Not to worry Jackie; I’ve never seen any one suffer any consequence from this in the real Art World.
Here’s a good little tool to find an update on artist-run galleries and exhibition spaces in the Bay Area. It’s an ongoing project by Oakland artist Narangkar Glover that includes an interactive Google map and gallery list.