Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Work of Art: The Next Great Artist - 1x01 "Self-Reflexive", 1x02 "The Shape of Things to Come"

It was bound to happen, sooner or later: high art gets its own reality tv show. Or maybe more accurately: I've been waiting for just such as a show as Work of Art. The program is brought to you/me by the ex-producers of Project Runway, so you know it's going to be well-executed reality tv and thus fairly familiar in terms of the art-product reality genre (the one glaringly poor production aspect is the editing during the critiques that makes the judges' comments seem haphazard and discontinuous -- but then again, if there's a category of people that would tend to talk at exorbitant length and which would necessitate harsh editing, Art Critic would be the one).

Although having conceptual and performance artists on a show as artists (as opposed to, say, ironic saboteurs or self-promoters) amuses me to no end, the immediate familiarity of Work of Art as just-another-reality-show demonstrates how potent the genre is. That is, the genre can take a medium as rarefied and abstruse as modern art and transform it into an exercise in tv commodification; the program manages to fit its contestants into the roles that are imminently familiar to the student of reality television. Nao the performance artist is the arrogant villain that isn't in the competition to make friends; Erik is the rank amateur who's clearly outclassed and whose lack of skill mark him as the One Who Doesn't Deserve To Be in the Competition; Jaclyn is the high-maintenance sexpot, if one can go by her large bust/thin frame disproportions and her proclivity for using herself as the subject of nude studies (but she's worked with Jeff Koons, so I'm confused); so on, so forth. In short: Reality television -- is there nothing it can't reduce to pat types? (Nb. I'm not complaining, actually!)

That's the theorizing. As for content, I wouldn't call most of the cast artists; instead, they generally strike me as craftsmen for their lack of vision and point of view. Nao, Trong, and Miles seem to be the only ones who have actual theoretical muscle backing up their pieces (maybe John, too, based on the two episodes I've seen; Bravo haven't been terribly interested in giving me ways to watch their show), while everyone else is hardly groundbreaking or thought-provoking. That's a round-about way of saying that I don't think most of the cast are terribly smart (which probably is informed by the reality self-selection bias). (And I suppose it's called irony that my cultural snobbery suddenly comes out in this particular context.)

I should note, though, that even some of the capital-A artists can fall into the glib obviousness that I'd expect from the dilettante contestants, Trong being the gravest example for his commentary on modern culture: a "family" of television sets watching tv, with each family member bearing a "pithy" remark on its screen along the lines of "I Hate Reality TV!" Irony really is dead if this is what passes for it in the art world these days.

I like Abdi, who has a more subdued Bill Sienkiewicz vibe to him, even if I number him among the contestants practicing craft and not necessarily creating art. Nonetheless, Abdi produces stuff with energy and visual inventiveness. Meanwhile, OCD Miles has the look of the prohibitive favorite/wunderkind, even if I consider some of his strategies, such as mining obscure, idiosyncratic genres from the past as a basis for his work, to be aesthetic gimmickry.

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