No, it wasn’t a sporting event. It was Reality TV – with fourteen artists at the starting line, three down to the wire, and one who took home the prize. Who would have thought that Work of Art would spark so much interest?
Who would have imagined that Abdi Farah would come from behind to nab the win?
It’s the morning after, and I’ll spare you a perky play-by-play through my personal lens. But I’ll offer some related thoughts. About you. About me. About why you should feel good today, even if you don’t watch this show.
In the aftermath of this strange experiment, I’m running on too little sleep (and too damn much popcorn). I was discussing art on the phone with a friend into the wee hours, having chatted with others via Twitter and email.
- One year ago, even the thought of this show raised the ire of artists and art lovers alike.
- Following the first episode, the art world continued to take a derisive stance; must I remind you of The Daily Beast terming this a bust?
- At mid-series, heated by the hurling of expletives and stirring the personality pot, we were appalled. And hooked.
- In the final challenges, we still bitched and moaned about time and content, insisting that fine art is different from other creative endeavors (I believe it is), as we jeered the judges (when we saw fit), and cheered our favorite contestants.
- By the finale, we were invested.
And apparently, “we the viewers” weren’t the only ones. To read Jerry Saltz’s recaps is somehow reassuring. As art critic and judge on Work of Art, he was invested as well. Apparently, to his surprise.
Reality TV as cultural mirror
Why is this about you, and me, and cause for optimism?
“Regular people” are talking about art. Tweeting about it, commenting on it, arguing over it.
Sure – we all know that reality TV is not reality. It is a cultural mirror, and a distorted one at that. It casts strange reflections as we peer in. Reflections that make us smirk, surprise us, irritate us, and unnerve us. They’re fun house mirrors in a way, forcing us to see differently whether we want to or not. We can avert our eyes or hurry by. Or we can choose to look. And if we do? Isn’t this what contemporary art is about? A different vision, purposely torqued, encouraging us to explore?
I have higher hopes for a society that values creativity and dialogue – the communication that takes place as individuals open their eyes to see, their mouths to speak, and then quiet themselves to consider – subsequently picking up their pens, pencils, charcoals, and brushes to express themselves.
Work of Art’s Participants
My thoughts on Peregrine, Miles, and Abdi?
Peregrine crafted her circus atmosphere, and a hodge-podge of elements that amply enhanced the country fair feeling she was after. In her own way, the theme of death rippled through her carnival, as it did with Miles’ and Abdi’s works. But despite her mix of installation, performance, sculpture, painting and photography – not to mention the seductive side show aspects of disembodied waxen heads and the dead, twinned fawns – her abundance of happenings weren’t to my taste. Had she edited (which would have helped), it still wouldn’t be my thing. Judging art remains subjective.
Miles also dealt with death, and solely death, retaining a cool distance from the emotion of it. I would have had no issue with that, if the images were more compelling – larger, fewer, more diverse – more something.
It has been said elsewhere: Miles defeated himself. I admire that he followed a concept from start to finish, from life at the edge of death, to death, and the ultimate invisibility of a homeless man who freezes on a park bench and then disappears from our consciousness. Yet Miles abstracted the scene to the point of obliteration – the black hole and then the blur. It didn’t impress.
Yes, I’m surprised that Abdi won. And I believe it was the right choice given the final exhibition. He’s accomplished, and open. He wisely included works in charcoal, a solid mix of paintings, and sculpture – showcasing his proficiency in many mediums. The effectiveness of his sprawled selves on the gallery floor was the kicker, as he hit on universal humanistic themes of death and spirituality with a result that was skilled, edited, and accessible.
Next great anything?
We’ve gone beyond 15 minutes of fame (thank you, Google), and somewhere, the spirit of Andy Warhol is chuckling. I think he’d be enjoying the buzz, the “good” art, the “bad” art, the redefinitions bound to take place as we make room for the fluidity of judgment in an online and interactive world.
Is Abdi the next great artist? Of course not. There is no such thing. But he’s earned an opportunity, as have all the participants, and we’ll be watching to see what he – and they – do with it.
As for us – the viewers, the pundits, the snarky voices and the encouraging ones, we’d like more. Whether this is a blip on the art world radar or something else, many of us have loved the ride.
A bigger sandbox, a different playground
Beyond Manhattan and L.A., plenty of people still give a damn about art. We hate that galleries have closed, that museum attendance is down, that budgets for art programs in our schools are cut over and over again. We believe the artistic sandbox should be bigger – and playing there should be encouraged. Who are we without our artists, even when they make us uncomfortable?
As for art criticism, we’ve discovered that it may be interactive rather than static, a conversation in place of a sermon from the mount. Formal art criticism still has its place, but the fascination with this show, and the enthusiastic squirming of so many indicate that we care a whole lot more about the visual arts and artists than we realized.
Jerry Saltz says it far more eloquently in his remarks posted last night – and I urge you to read his recap in entirety.
. . . there’s one more question I have to ask. Did I “win” or “lose” by being on the program? Art and TV have always been bad bedfellows; they never get one another. If watching this show sometimes made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, I can only imagine what it did to the hairs on the back of the collective neck. Yet I honestly never thought of saying no to this show. I loved doing it; it changed the way I think — somewhat, anyway. I wanted to see if art criticism was porous and supple enough to actually exist on a different stage.
And it did.
It happened here in these recaps. . . in the tens of thousands of words that all of you wrote in the comment sections at the bottom of the recaps. An accidental art criticism sprang up, practiced in a new place, in a new way, on a fairly high level. . . The delivery mechanism of art criticism seemed to turn itself inside out; instead of one voice speaking to many, there were many voices speaking to one another. Coherently. All these voices became ghosts in criticism’s machine. It was a criticism of unfolding process, not dictums and law – a criticism of intimacy that pulsed with a kind of phosphorescent grandeur.
. . . For me the deep content of being on Work of Art was to see if art criticism could find new ways to expose itself to the world so that more of the world might expose itself to it. Many art world gate-keepers tut-tut that this conversation in the vernacular between equals is “piddle.” What I learned from doing this strange TV show, whose strangeness still somehow feels familiar, is that criticism contains multitudes.
Images courtesy Bravo TV.
© D A Wolf