The Work of Art producers went art historical on us this week by giving our six remaining contestants the team challenge of creating works with opposing themes. Both Jackson Pollock and Michelangelo were turning in their graves as familiar themes of Heaven and Hell, order and chaos, and male and female were laid out for slaughter on the altar of reality TV.
Miles and Jaclyn lucked out by drawing the themes of male versus female, while Nicole and Abdi had the more difficult task of order versus chaos. Mark and Peregrine were given the deceptively difficult Heaven and Hell themes.
This challenge has certainly been one of the season’s more intriguing because it addresses some of the most fundamental topics in art throughout history. What I also liked is how it forced artists to use larger concepts than what they’ve been pigeonholing themselves into so far. But my expectations were not met by any of the contestant’s final products.
One of my major disappointments of the night was Mark and Peregrine’s interpretations of Heaven and Hell. Mark had initially begun thinking about the themes in terms of his Catholic upbringing, which Peregrine steered him away from for being too literal. Instead they created two self portraits of Mark displaying a surgical scar he had from years prior. The final products of both were contrived and one note, hardly any better than literal. The most exciting thing about the work was when Bill Powers exclaimed, “Somebody got their Bedazzler out on that one,” about Peregrine’s work. Creating this type of portrait was clearly uncomfortable for Mark who at one point proclaimed that he never thought he would have to show his nipples so large in a gallery. It was a shame that Mark didn’t stick with his guns on his initial idea as I think years worth of religion could have allowed him to create much more loaded and stimulating imagery.
I am truly irritated that it was Mark who had to leave, and not Peregrine, for the mistakes in the work. In past episodes, Jaclyn has been applauded and rewarded for putting herself and her body issues on the table, even when the final product was not her best. In Mark’s case though, he was punished. Mark has been a fair contender throughout the competition and I am glad he made it as far as he did. I have no doubt he will be able to wrangle some impressive commercial gigs in the near future. Much like Ryan, he has been one of the best personalities throughout the season, which I am sure was part of the reason China was moved to tears when he was asked to leave.
Oh, Abdi. Where do I begin? Nicole devised the idea of basing their pieces on social order, and of course creates a small interactive and materially conscious toy machine involving a hand crank and head. She suggests to Abdi the idea of using Plato’s cave as a concept for the piece, but unfortunately, the reference fell short and Abdi struggled through the week’s challenge. His final painting is of compartmentalized colors that describe a sort of protean form that is supposed to be a cave. The composition and execution were tidy and smooth, far from the idea of chaos he was supposed to portray. To top it off, I think the collective Work of Art audience shuttered when he describes his piece to the judges as “the chaos of Socrates cave.” Neither work really worked. I had to agree with Saltz when he told Abdi that he trusts his vision less and less each week.
Jaclyn and Miles were given the themes of male and female which allowed them to continue to work in the same aesthetic direction they have been all along. Miles built a wall which he covered in tar and then punched a hole through to illustrate the idea of a loss of control and masculinity. Jaclyn once again provides us with a sexualized image of herself, this time masturbating in a standing pose facing the viewer to illustrate the idea of a woman gaining control of her sexuality. The painting was well executed, but the imagery was a bit tame for the subject matter.
One thing that truly irked me during this week’s episode was Miles obnoxiously offensive discussion of how excited he was to work with Jaclyn so that he could get her to take her clothes off: “Frankly with this piece I was really just considering how I could get Jaclyn to add nudity to her painting and I think I figured it out. It’s just underhandedly genius. Win, win!” Way to exploit your fellow artist and teammate. I know that he has been labeled as the douchebag throughout the competition, and I was willing to let it slide as competitive spirit until last night’s episode. I have officially joined the “Miles, The Douchebag” campaign. Even guest judge Ryan McGinness, whose work I am actually quite fond of, used the work as an excuse to be creepy by asking Jaclyn if she masturbated standing up. I would have liked to see Jaclyn be a bit more forceful and tell both Miles and McGinness to lay off.
Quote of the night: “This show really stretches your bullshitting ability,” Mark. This quote was followed by a series of clips of the competitors clearly in the midst of describing their work using art criticism rhetoric that was pieced together into a nonsensical phrase. Brilliant.
My favorite this week: I’m calling a draw. Nothing really did it for me this week. Technically, Jaclyn was probably the strongest, but unfortunately the piece which was supposed to convey a woman taking charge of her sexuality and independence, in fact seemed introverted in how she covered her face and breasts in the painting. Even the act of her masturbating, which was the focus of the painting, seemed veiled and tormented (to use Bill Powers word) as opposed to claiming her “proud pussy.”
Check BURNAWAY every Thursday to read Susannah Darrow’s column, On TV: Work of Art, for commentary on each episode.