German sculptor Joseph Beuys famously said, “Everyone is an artist.” I wondered if all of our interconnectivity and social networking also made everyone a critic. For me, criticism is a way of showing respect for art; I wanted to share that respect with a large audience and see if it would reciprocate.I take him at his word. I am a fan of Jerry's but I didn't watch a single episode of season one, and even avoided reading articles and blog posts about the show. I did this not because the show didn't reflect the "real art world," that is after all a very tall order, I did it because at first it seemed everyone seemed to be watching the show. What's the point of being an artist if you do what everybody else is doing? But my contrarian knee-jerk turned to real discomfort as I began to hear about the show. I found the concept of challenges and elimination rounds disrespectful to my small place within the art world. I make art for a living and it bummed me out to have to a museum I love (the Brooklyn Museum has a world class collection and suffers a farm team reputation largely because of its unfortunate proximity to the Modern and the Met) and a critic I really like (Jerry is seriously one of my personal favorites) using young artists as unpaid fodder for a game-show.
I am writing this now because I'm a contrarian and everyone else is done loving and hating Work of Art - everyone but my brother-in-law, Steve Mesler, who is an art fabricator and blogs about art for Huffinton Post, and is one of my closest friends. He has repeatedly defended the show in conversation. He found the artists on the show supportive of one another and pressed me to consider how badly they were being treated not just by snarky bloggers but by Bravo. He and I have a long history of stupid bets and endless arguments, but also of pushing one another to do better. When he told me he planned to video interviews of the kids on line last weekend it got me wondering what constellation of events it would take to get me to watch season two with him. I'll do it but I have one condition: That the producers follow Jerry Saltz's suggestions and hired Christian Viveros-Faune and Bill Powhida to be on the show. Those changes guarantee more reality TV drama and fun than an open bar on the Jersey Shore.
Bill Powhida, Zoolander, Billy Zane and Christian Viveros-Faune
I later learned one was on steroids; one suffered anxiety attacks; a third said she’d been “put into pre-pre-menopause.”
That Bravo reduced art to series of BFA level challenges was arguably the most artificial and insulting part of the show for me... it’s the central challenge for an artist. “What the fuck do I do?” ... I am fucking insulted that the producers of Work of Art... couldn’t come up with some format for the show where the artists had to do their own fucking thing, and let the judges… actually engage in some critical analysis and consider every aspect of the work, not just if it met some absurd pre-existing conditions... artists don’t get fucking challenges. We call that illustration, commercial work, or being an artist’s assistant...
The show appealed to my belief that art only got better once the boundaries between high and low culture were relaxed, most famously by Andy Warhol, then by countless others. It also satisfied my hunger to try new things; my demons that demand I dance naked in public; and my desire to see if art criticism is supple and porous enough to be practiced on a wider stage—even if this stage distorted that practice.
The reason New York was the location Bravo chose for their show and not some corn crib in Chimacum Washington is because while the New York art world has no bottom, it also had no ceiling. The highest quality art regularly on view in New York is some of the best art in the world. The Work of Art should be measured in terms of how well it stands up in comparison to the best of New York, that is a real (if unachievable) goal. If the show is really going to be is a game-show platform for popularizing art criticism, it should be done in a way that allows the artists a fighting chance to make something worth talking about. In his rant Bill talks about the need for additional production time, as a sculptor I would add heftier budgets that allow the contestants to produce professional quality work. If your going to title the show The Next Great Artist, own it. Finally all of the artists should should be allowed to keep all the work they produce. This is not just fair, it is a strong incentive to make great work. (Evidently the producers have already realized they have a storage issue building - they are learning the hard way why so many emerging art institutions commission art but don't maintain permeant collections.)