Judging by its high ratings and the internet buzz it has already generated, last week’s premiere of Work of Art seems to have intrigued a nation of artists, viewers, and critics. I was a bit nervous that the show had already jumped the shark when the episode began with Miles yawning not one, but five, times within the first ten minutes. Are the producers getting symbolically artistic by telling us that we should already be tired of the show? Not just yet.
This week’s guest judge, installation artist Jon Kessler, announced the week’s challenge: Make art out of junk. The competitors were taken to a junk warehouse and instructed to use at least one appliance to create a work of art, which had to be sculptural. Kessler instructed them to be courageous, but in a group comprised mostly of painters, just creating something that would stand was a stretch for some.
Before I get too into the artwork, I have a confession to make. I hate most conceptual art. Good conceptual artists are generally extremely daring and thought provoking. Bad conceptual artists tend to be insular, arrogant, and boring. Tonight was no exception to that rule. In a challenge where several artists were not entirely sure how to go about constructing their work, calling it “conceptual art” became a bad excuse.
The challenge began with the artists tearing through bins of technological relics to find elements for their final sculpture. Since we had not yet seen Miles yawn and complain about being tired, he decides to nap on the floor while the others work in a frenzy around him. When Miles wakes up, he declares that he wants to create a sculpture about sleeping. Go figure.
The creations ranged from ephemeral jumble to television staring contests. Ryan created Zebra Vaccuum Spiral, a tower of junk and wires twisted together that was more of a mess than anything.
Erik is still getting by on his amateur card; he managed to nail together every piece of ugly crap in the warehouse to create a “technology corpse,” whose penis China accidentally tugged during the opening.
Abdi pulled out the best recovery of the episode. On Day 1 we only see some foam spray melting off some wires. But by Day 2 he finishes a fully realized plaster television-head child compete with a Nintendo control for its umbilical cord.
“Proud-Pussy” Jaclyn isn’t too proud to bat her eyelashes at everyone on the show to convince them to build her sculpture for her. Apparently, she doesn’t cut wood. Humph.
Ryan, who’s infinitely more likable in this episode now that he’s done proving that he’s memorized the entire Urban Outfitters catalogue, smartly points out that Jaclyn’s television fish tank is pretty darn similar to the style of her old boss, Jeff Koons.
This week’s critique session got down to business with harsh, but fair criticism of Trong’s Cosby family of televisions watching televisions. Jerry Saltz called Trong’s work “self-referentiality up the wing-wong,” and I basically agree. Each TV set was painted in white with cutesy sayings written on the front, including one that stated, “WWTFD?” Not only did Jerry and I not get it, I don’t think anyone except for Trong and the other five people in thriving conceptual art circles knew what it meant. (Oh yeah, it means “What would Tom Some-conceptual-artist Do?” Inside joke for conceptual artists only! Ugh, really?)
I really wanted to call shenanigans on Miles’ bedroom complete with cement anal bed stands, which took home the win for tonight. Saltz and the others could not stop complimenting Miles on activating his sculpture by sleeping on it during gallery hours. An installation that describes his difficulty getting sleep does successfully engage with the artist. But after seeing him sleep everywhere he could for the entire episode, I find it hard to give him credit.
Also: Cement assholes? Even Kessler agrees this was a bit too much. I guess I’m OK with it if they’re supposed to be symbolic for Nao and Jaclyn. The arranged crush the producers have planned for the viewers with Miles is quickly wearing thin for me.
My favorite of the week: Nicole’s television burial mound. Nicole hollowed out a ’70s-era wood-paneled television and filled it with out-dated technologies, such as Walkmen, cassette tapes, and the like, which were then encased in a tomb of cement, dirt, and clay. The sculpture showed off her background in industrial design; she took a concept that could easily have been too chaotic and created an intelligent, confident, and well-composed work.
Quote of the night: “This piece is distractingly boring.”—Miles to Trong during the judges’ critique. Leave the conceptual artist with the bad asymmetrical haircut alone, Miles! That hair is enough for him to worry about right now.
Check BURNAWAY every Thursday to read Susannah Darrow’s column, On TV: Work of Art, for commentary on each episode.