“Why is China Chow wearing my 1984 prom dress?!?!” was my first thought when I tuned into Bravo’s “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” reality TV show last week. As a fan of television train wrecks, I had been eagerly awaiting its debut.
You knew things weren’t going to be good when host/judge China Chow, a woman who (bless her heart) has as much personality as a bucket of gesso, pretentiously described herself as “born into a family of collectors.” That, apparently, is her qualification as a judge.
I was “born into a family of engineers” but that didn’t keep me from getting a D in algebra. I don’t know how Chow got this gig, but her wardrobe was far more interesting than anything she had to say. Maybe she and executive producer Sarah Jessica Parker are shopping buddies.
I’m a fan of Bravo’s “Project Runway.” When it debuted, it was refreshing to see people on a reality TV show with an actual talent (other than large breasts). But the big difference between “Runway” and “Next Great” is that, however avant garde and creative the designs, fashion is a retail product. While art, too, is retailed, most of us like to pretend that it isn’t. Saleability isn’t supposed to be a factor in judging an artwork. Nobody told that to the obliviously sleazy gallerist judges on this show.
“The commercial aspect to his work is going to be a positive thing for him,” opines Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, “gallerist, art advisor, independent curator, collector, and tastemaker.” Also from Rohatyn, a remark that seems more appropriate to "Project Runway" and an industry concerned with style and fashion: “You are right on for today.”
“To me, looking at this, having a gallery I don’t think I could sell this painting,” comments Bill Powers, “co-owner of Half Gallery in New York and the editor-at-large for Purple Fashion magazine.”
Niiiiiice. Saleable=good? It’s a question that isn’t, of course, restricted to the show.
Jerry Salz is the only guy on the show with anything interesting to say. But like one undersized lifeguard trying to save the drowning cast of “The Biggest Loser,” I am afraid he is going to get dragged under.
And why is a fucking auctioneer, Simon de Creepy, er Pury, the “mentor” figure? (FYI, he doesn’t exactly come across as someone you want to “mentor” you.) Is he here to tell them how to improve their auction prices? At least Tim Gunn was actually on the faculty at a design school. And there are fellow fashion designers as judges on "Runway." People are wondering, why are there no artist judges on “The Next Great Artist?”
I like watching the creative process on “Runway,” however absurd the assignment or artificially-frantic the time constraints. And while some people’s designs are significantly more labor-intensive than others, the end result is still clothing.
In the real world, visual art takes myriad forms, each requiring vastly different amounts of time. Anyone who has been to art school has seen work cranked out the night before a crit but student deadlines usually equal student work.
And speaking of the work, let’s just say pickin’s are slim. And as for the artists/train wreck victims, there is an amusing assortment of recognizable art types – the blunt middle-aged feminist artist, the OCD printmaking guy, the cute girl who has to photograph herself naked all the time…One of the most interesting seems to be Nao Bustamante, a performance and video artist whose apparent pompousness seems to me to be ironic and itself a performance. Bustamante has duped TV before, according to a 2009 post in The New York Times, T Magazine blog, she faked her way on to the “The Joan Rivers Show,” pretending to be an exhibitionist. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, I’m going to keep watching, eager for more stupidass pronouncements like Chow’s assertion that “A successful portrait is one that shows the ‘inner essence’ of the subject and not just their likeness.” I’ll look forward to more gushy suck-up comments about the judges (like what an honor it is to have China Chow) and more thrilled gasps when Sarah Jessica Parker enters the room. But also I’ll hope for more refreshing moments of frankness like this little exchange between Salz and Bustamante about her work:
Salz: “How much of that do you think the viewer can get?”
Bustamante: “None of it.”
“Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” 9 pm central Wednesdays on Bravo.