Week Fifty Two

Work of Art: The Next Great Artist episode seven

Posted in Art news, Art review by sarahbakerhansen on 21 July 2010

So after last week’s rather dramatic cuss-word laden public art challenge, and the also rather dramatic exit of Erik, we join the artists for a fresh challenge. The preview clues us in that this week, the good-looking Miles is the target of ire.

In the first few minutes of the show, the contestants talk about Erik’s dramatic exit and how they’re alternatively sad and relieved. They all go up to the roof and enjoy breakfast together as a tension reliever. It’s a gorgeous roof deck, to be sure, and the seven remaining contestants spend some time getting to know each other, and topics like Ryan’s religion (He was raised a Jehovah’s Witness) come up.

Simon comes in and tells the artists they’re going on a trip to a surprise art destination, which turns out to be Soho’s Children’s Museum of the Arts. It’s not what they expected, but it’s clearly going to reflect their challenge. The challenge asks the artists to dig deep and create a piece inspired by what made them become an artist. They have to use the materials in the museum: things like pipe cleaners, crayons and paint. Simon urges them to be bold.

The artists begin to work with kid materials at kid-sized tables. Nicole talks about how her twin sister does art therapy, and decides she wants to pull specific childhood memories for her piece. She’s making frames and exploring her quest for perfection. Abdi begins to create a comic book scene about his mother, who raised him as a single parent. Art, he says, kept him on the right track.

Miles decides to re-work a piece that he’s done in the past; it’s not reminiscent of his childhood, but he’s pleased with it.

Jaclyn is stumped on what to make. She doesn’t want to explore her childhood, which she describes as lonely, when she ate lunch alone at school in the bathroom stall. It seems like she’s already exploring a lot of these themes of isolation in her other work, so it’s unclear why things have become so hard now.


The materials are both challenging and inspiring to the artists. Some are finding creative freedom in the material while others are hindered. Peregrine talks about how she was raised in an artist commune in San Francisco and she thinks of herself as a child at an adult’s party. Her sculptural piece is inspired by those experiences. So far, her piece is a lot different from anyone else’s. It’s much bolder.

All of the artists begin to deal with memories – times when they were left out, experiences they had with family members, difficult moments. The hardest part seems for many to be realizing that much of their inspiration – even in real life – comes from their past.

Meanwhile, Miles and Nicole continue their flirtation in a box of giant balls. Simon arrives a few minutes later with snacks.

Simon starts his reviews with Ryan, who is making a drawing akin to one a child would make, using his left hand. Simon says again: too literal. Abdi’s comic book painting looks “like an 11-year-old” did it, and the artist is concerned. Jaclyn’s abstract paintings don’t look like much – Simon said he liked the idea of using pipe cleaners more, but she’s divided.

Simon is more impressed with the conceptual, adult works that deal with memory: Nicole’s set of mixed media pieces that represent layers of memory, Peregrine’s candy-like sculptural pieces that evoke her awakening as an artist.

Miles’ piece has nothing to do with his childhood, and Simon thinks this is a big problem. Miles says he doesn’t think he’s a fully developed artist yet, and this makes the other artists mad: they think he’s cheating by referring back to another piece he made in the past.

Overall, Simon says he’s concerned and unimpressed with most of what he saw. He also tells the artists that the days of immunity are over.


After Simon leaves, Abdi scraps his piece. He starts interviewing the other artists and asking them what people asked them to draw. Ryan decides to add another level of complexity to his piece, and Jaclyn starts playing with pipe cleaners. Miles starts making rubber band balls and decides to add them to his piece. Ryan calls Ryan a douche bag, and it’s clear that Miles is pretty much ignoring the challenge and just making whatever he feels like.

The next day the artists get ready to install the show, and Nicole says she thinks it’s going to be one of the most personal gallery shows so far, and it’s going to be hard to hear what the judges have to say.

Ryan and Jaclyn both change their pieces a lot, and Jaclyn does end up using the pipe cleaners and pom-poms, as Simon suggested. She’s done well in the past listening to what he said, and it will be interesting to see if this is any exception.

Mark finishes his piece – a children’s book – and Ryan urges him not to talk about it too literally. I guess he’s learning from experience.


The guest judge for the challenge this week is painter Will Cotton. The judges like Abdi’s images that describe the role of the artist. Mark’s book – while very literal – shows a new side of his artwork. Peregrine’s piece, “Rainbow,” is described by Cotton as “ballsy.” Ryan’s piece tries hard to get into his childhood mind, and the judges seem into it. Miles’ piece ends up looking like a grid, and Cotton says it reminds him of space invaders. I can see that, too, but knowing his attitude during the challenge turns me off the piece.

Abdi, Nicole, Peregrine, Ryan and Jaclyn get pulled up for the critique, while Miles and Mark are safe.

Ryan said when he was trying to draw a like a child,it brought up memories, and the judges see that his experience was intense. The work he didn’t like is torn up on the floor, and the judges find that more interesting than the finished piece, which just looks like a child’s work.

Peregrine describes her chalk cigarettes and party remnants as her childhood experience, and how later in life many of those people she knew as a child died of AIDS. The piece is a mix of candy and drugs, and the judges can see both experience and innocence in the piece. The details, they say, tell the story.

Jaclyn describes her final piece – a black and white tree painting  mixed with strings – as her own secret world. But the judges don’t see that in the work. They say there’s no risk in the stark piece and that she tried to hard to make it relatable to others.

Nicole’s sculptural mobile is meant to convey memories from her childhood. The judges like that it created a mystery, and she’d done that before. They like the level of obscurity, and that it’s deeply personal.

Finally, Abdi’s piece. His collection of drawings aren’t personal. They ask him which drawings connect to him and he points out the superhero drawings. The judges say that’s his theme, but he removed himself from the piece when he asked other people for their ideas.


The judges think the work either works or comes off as amateurish. THey like Peregrine because she created a risky work that’s deeply personal. Nicole brought mystery into the work and they liked how she made the materials her own. Ryan’s piece didn’t let the judges know him and the drawings were too generic. The substance wasn’t there. They wonder if he’s learning anything from week to week. Jaclyn couldn’t make herself vulnerable this week as she has in past weeks and the judges are disappointed. Abdi’s piece was dull, safe and random. It’s commercial and cliché.

Nicole and Peregrine are the top two, and Peregrine takes home the prize this week for her risky choice.

The bottom three are Abdi, Jaclyn and Ryan. Their work, the judges say didn’t make them feel anything: the ideas were under-developed, guarded, amateurish and bland. Abdi is safe and the elimination comes down to Jaclyn and Ryan.

Ryan, who didn’t take the judge’s past criticisms to heart, gets the boot.

He said he stands by his piece and wishes he could stay, but is also glad to go home and make what he loves: realistic oil paintings that he doesn’t have to explain to anyone.

Next week: another team challenge. Looks like some portraits are in our future.

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On watching the first few episodes of “Work of Art”

Posted in Art news, Art review by sarahbakerhansen on 20 July 2010

My sister Lindsey posted a really insightful comment on my recap post from episode five of Bravo’s “Work of Art.” I liked it so much that I thought it was worth a post of its own, and figured I’d finish this post in advance of tonight’s episode.

Here’s what she wrote:

“This show is so strange to watch. It’s one thing to see someone crank out a dress with limited resources and stylistic constraints in a short period of time, but for me, the idea is not jiving with the creation of a piece of visual art (it actually makes the most sense to me in terms of writing–free writing or timed writing with a theme or set of arbitrary rules isn’t a new idea, but would probably make for boring TV).

Maybe I have a skewed perception of fashion as art, or art as art, or the exploitation of the creative process that goes into both. I do believe fashion is art, of course, and that it can be high art…still, I don’t put Consuelo Castiglioni, say, in the same category as Matthew Barney, even if I could easily see wearing Marni to a Barney opening.

It’s an interesting concept.”

I agree that it’s an interesting concept, though I can’t say I really like it. As the weeks go on, I find myself less interested in watching the show. I’ve always enjoyed the part of my job that lets me get into artist studios, see their work, watch them create and talk about process. More often than not, I leave with some real insight. But “Work of Art” takes that situation – often intimate, always a result of a certain level of trust between viewer and artist – and makes it seem cheap. I don’t think it would be bad for “just anyone” – including the millions of Bravo viewers out there – to see what happens in an artist’s studio; to the contrary, I wish more people could have that experience, which leads to a deeper understanding of art. What “reality” television specializes in, though, is the bastardizing of reality in neat, drama filled, hour-long chunks that aren’t really real at all. I know this. I do. But it’s harder for me to swallow when it concerns art.

The other thing that bothers me about the show is that artists are being constrained to work under a theme – an idea that historically doesn’t lead to very good art. Last week’s episode, which focused on public art, was an exception – they got to go any way they wanted, but had to work in teams, which is another unfortunate reality show construct, because team challenges equate bickering, and usually bad art/food/fashion, depending on the program.

I think Lindsey’s comment is spot-on in terms of what this show does with creativity. Making a piece of visual art with a budget of $25 in two hours is probably going to lead to some poorly executed art. In rare cases, that might be different. But I highly doubt the “next great artist” will be a former Bravo show contestant on the program of the same name.

See you tonight.

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Work of Art: The Next Great Artist episode six

Posted in Art news by sarahbakerhansen on 14 July 2010

I got home late tonight, so I don’t have a full recap of episode six. But a moment near the end of this week’s episode, focused on a public art challenge, rung true, and would have had I seen the whole show or not. The guest judge, Yvonne Force Villareal, president and co-founder of the Art Production Fund, commented on the bickering between one of the two teams by saying “This is the reason there isn’t more public art. People can’t agree.”

That, I thought, was probably the most authentic moment of this series so far.

Public art is one of the most controversial topics in the art world – what makes it good, what makes it bad, what people are interested in are constant questions that don’t have comfortable answers.

The two teams – four contestants each – worked together to create a public art piece that was to make a bold statement. One was a monolithic, geometric orb. The other created a seat for the viewer to peruse the sky above the New York City skyline. The team who made the geometric piece – consisting of Abdi, Mark, Nicole and Ryan – won. No one got immunity, but the team chose Nicole as the winner – the piece was her idea.

The other team – Jacklyn, Peregrine, Miles and Erik – got panned for their piece. The scale was off, it seemed unsafe, and they argued constantly. Jcakyln had immunity and Erik – the most negative contestant on the show, who also wasn’t on board with the sculpture and acted really passive-aggressive about it – got the boot.

Next week: the artists head to Soho and land at a mystery destination; the challenge forces them to give up control.

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I took my blog to Facebook

Posted in Art news by sarahbakerhansen on 6 July 2010

I created a Facebook page for Week Fifty Two. It’s handy for those who don’t use RSS feeds but still want to stay up to date on posts. (I have to admit, I feel pretty self-aggrandizing with this post.) I’ll post links and articles on the Facebook page, just to keep things interesting over there.

Anyhow, follow me on Facebook if you wish. If not, that’s ok too. I still like you.


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Independence Day

Posted in Art news by sarahbakerhansen on 2 July 2010

Happy Independence Day. Enjoy the long weekend!

Image courtesy Guggenheim Bilbao. Jasper Johns “Flag,” 1967.

Work of Art: The Next Great Artist episode four

Posted in Art news by sarahbakerhansen on 30 June 2010

I’ve been away from television for the past few weeks, so I’m just now tuning in to Bravo’s latest reality show, “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist.” I meant to write about each episode of the show from episode one, but sadly, I’m just now tuning in for episode four. Better late than never. Thankfully, Bravo replays its programs all the time, so I’m sure I’ll be able to catch up on the first three episodes before next week.


I’m watching the show as I type and I’m pretty shocked within the first few minutes that one of the artists, Abdi, hasn’t ever heard of or seen “Piss Christ.”

Andres Serrano comes out after the artists take in his work and gives them some advice, then they get their challenge: create a Shocking Work of Art.They get $100 and about 12 hours to make a piece.

A lot of the artists seem to interpret “shocking” as “sexual” and before the first commercial break, one dude is already talking about how his work is going to incorporate oral sex.

During the break, I go to Bravo’s Web site to check out what the first three challenges were: the first was to create a portrait of a competitor, the second to make art out of garbage (yawn. We’ve seen this on Project Runway) and the third to design a book cover for a classic novel.

The show comes back on but not without a parental warning that the content might be offensive to young viewers. We’re going to see private parts!

Erik decides to make work about child abuse and the Catholic Church. Jacklyn decides to “push herself,” so she takes off all her clothes and poses with a thong and sunglasses — sort of like early MySpace photos — in the studio bathroom. A second artist decides to tackle child abuse. A fourth guy decides to “shock himself” and takes some photos of himself as a “post cum-shot tranny with really bad makeup.” (That’s a quote.)

Another girl tackles her phobia of losing a limb and decides to create a fake finger  – a decapitated thumb. She makes a bunch of these to use as vessels and fills them with things like blood, spit, fingernail clippings and hair.

Another artists does a line drawing in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head full of distorted naked parts.

It’s interesting to watch artists “perform” in this way, under pressure and under a time limit, forcing themselves to be creative. It does, actually, feel pretty forced. Some of the artists head straight for cliches.


The critiques are my favorite part of the show. Art Auctioneer Simon de Pury takes to his Tim Gunn role beautifully. The first thing he does is tell Jacklyn – the MySpace photo girl – that the photos she took of herself aren’t really that provocative. They’re sort of commonplace. She decides to add text.

Jaime creates a comic-book rendition of the Last Supper that includes some weapons and some debauchery – Simon doesn’t think it’s shocking, but Jaime, who is a Christian, thinks it’s really shocking. Simon advises her to find a message.

The winner of last week’s challenge, John, is making a the painting of oral sex – of a man giving *himself* oral sex. Simon doesn’t say much on this one.

Here’s what I love about Simon – as he continues through these critiques, he admits that he doesn’t get some of the pieces. That he doesn’t know what some of the artsts are getting at. That type of honesty is refreshing. So far, Simon is my favorite guy on the show.

Before he leaves the studio, Simon tells the artists that not one artist but two will be eliminated after this challenge. He also says the winner gets immunity.

Before the commercial break, the artist who drew the Mickey Mouse head ejaculates on his piece. Sigh.


The Judges are introduced – Serrano is the guest judge and the usual team of judges is here too: art enthusiast China Chow, New York Gallery Owner Bill Powers, New York Magazine Art Critic Jerry Saltz and Curator and Salon94 Gallery Owner Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn.

They all roam trough the gallery along with a bunch of other gallery-goers. We have paintings, a few sculpture pieces and one performance piece from Nao that includes lots of smooshy brown stuff. The judges say they think it might be shit, and Serrano says “I don’t smell anything.” Classic.

Peregrine’s piece is one of my favorites – Large-scale, fashion model-esque portraits of marred models underlined by lines like “Herpes for Chanel,” etc etc. Chow recognizes her own outfit from the previous week in one of the pieces. Clever.

Jaclyn, John, Erik, Abdi, Nao and Jaime get “critiqued.” The rest of the artists are safe.

Jaime is the one who did the cartoon piece that Simon said wasn’t controversial. She didn’t change a thing. Judges alternately describe it as “A New Yorker Cover” and “A White Trash Wedding.” Serrano says she doesn’t have it.

Sex Education is Erik’s piece about child abuse. The judges say it’s too much like a Motley Crüe album cover. They say the text which reads “Sex Education” in  huge letters is too obvious (duh.)

John’s piece – the auto-fellatio – comes up. One judge says the guy’s penis is too big. Another artist says fellatio is spelled wrong. Oops! A third says its shocking to a 10-year-old.

Jacklyn let the other artists take markers to her MySpace photos and they wrote some pretty harsh comments. The judges give her props for her bravery. What she reveals about the viewer becomes part of the piece. She actually took Simon’s advice and made her non-shocking images a bit more shocking. Then Erik says the writing on the photos was actually *his* idea. Snap!

Nao – the performance artist – gets called out for being adolescent, and the judges say she doesn’t actually know what she’s doing. Serrano, though, said he liked it and that it made him uncomfortable.

Abdi’s three bomb-heads go over well. They have a magnetic power, the judges say. The shock is quiet, they say, and agree the threat of the piece works well.

In the back room, Erik lashes out at Jacklyn for taking his idea to graffiti her photographs. Then they get in a fight. This from the guy who totally stole his idea from a Metallica album cover he referenced earlier in the show.

We cut back to the judges: two artists are going home. The judges are surprised that sex was the default mode. They liked Abdi’s piece: the ritualistic qualities, the implied threat. Jacklyn’s piece was a hit, even if it was someone else’s idea, because she put herself out there.

They were disappointed by Erik’s Sex Education piece. They didn’t get it without too much explanation. They also thought Nao’s performance art was “weird.” Seriously? But moreover, they didn’t like it because she couldn’t explain it.

Jaime’s theme was too cluttered. She didn’t push herself.

John’s auto-fellatio, they say, should have been a photograph of himself. (ew.) They found it too jokey.


Abdi ends up winning the episode with his three bombs. He made a bit of a comeback after not recognizing Serrano’s work at the beginning of the show. Jacklyn is also safe.

Now to the elimination. John, Jaime, Nao and Erik are up for elimination. The two that go home: Nao and John.

It looks like we have some romance on tap for next week. See you then.

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New York update + W52 news

Posted in Art news by sarahbakerhansen on 24 May 2010

I just spent five days in New York and am looking forward to writing a number of blog posts about what I saw. As soon as I find my pesky camera cord, which always pulls a disappearing act at the worst time, I’ll start working on those updates. I checked out a number of galleries, bought some great books I want to tell you about and saw Marina Abranovic’s The Artist is Present at the Museum of Modern Art, which was truly amazing. Come back in the next week or so for those posts (and hope I find that cord!)

Meantime, I’ve got some exciting news I wanted to share with W52 readers. Next week,  I’m starting a new job as the Public Relations and Marketing manager at Lincoln’s Sheldon Museum of Art. I’m so lucky to have this opportunity and so excited to spend my days in such an inspiring workplace. I’ll still be blogging here and I’ll also still be writing for the Omaha Reader, so nothing is changing drastically where my writing is concerned; though I’m excited to pursue some new opportunities with writing and so very excited to be a part of the Sheldon team. Look for more news to come.

 Image: Sheldon Great Hall by R. Neibel/DED

Push Gallery’s Cli•mac•ter•ic extended through this weekend

Posted in Art news, Art openings, Interview by sarahbakerhansen on 7 May 2010

If you didn’t catch PUSH Gallery’s first show – an installation by Omaha artists Tim Guthrie and Jamie Burmeister – you still have a chance. The artists are opening the show this Saturday (that’s tomorrow) from 3-5 p.m. for a second round of viewing, then it’ll come down.

The two artists created the installation as part of World Environment Arts Week. Four video projections surround a central area, and a bicycle sits in the middle of the room. As viewers ride the bike, a set of video loops changes in response to the movement. If the viewer stops pedaling, the environment floods. When things get really bad, the buildings catch on fire. Horn honking and turning the handlebars affect what happens in the space.

I checked out the show last weekend – trust me, its memorable – and asked Guthrie and Burmeister if they’d answer a few questions about the piece. They both generously agreed.

Week Fifty Two: Tell us how the idea for this project came about.

Tim: The original idea we came up with was abandoned after we got a good look at Joey’s Gallery (we thought of an outdoor piece which we still might do this summer).Jamie had the idea of using a bicycle as the controlling element and he knew I wanted to do videos.  I think Jamie first thought about having a video where we moved through space (as if riding a bike) and I asked what he thought about having the bike do something different from what a bike would normally do.  I think I had already decided I would recreate the intersection at 18th and Vinton at that point, and I thought we could simply flood the intersection, but the peddling would lower the level of the flood.

W52: How does the piece work?

Tim: Jamie figured out how to have the pedals, brakes and horn trigger interactions.  Jamie is the master…

Jamie: The controls for the piece is done through Isadora, a graphical programming program originally designed for controlling media in performance.  Triggers go through a micro controller that changes the signal to midi data.  The program responds to the midi data.

W52: When viewers honk the bike’s horn, a crazy clown pops up in the horizon. Whose idea was that?

Tim: The first thing I did was set the buildings on fire, then I started creating other videos (storms, snow, warfare) that could be overlaid on the first videos (I put masks and audio in those video files).  The intersection and the water were all created from scratch as a 3D virtual environment, and until I added things like the clown (originally a silly idea I pitched to Jamie because of the sound of the horn) and Godzilla (another silly idea when I started thinking about 18th and Vinton fighting back), most of the other videos were created from scratch using Motion dynamics.

Jamie: I will say that the ideas developed naturally through our correspondence working on the piece individually and in the space.

Tim: Yes. It was a very organic collaboration where we just bounced ideas back and forth. Very balanced progression. Jamie is a fantastic guy to collaborate with. But also, I think it all started with the bike idea. He does the coolest shit, man.

Tugboat Presents: PUSH Gallery is located at 1803 Vinton Street in Omaha.

W52 Style: McQueen Memorialized

Posted in Art news, Fashion by sarahbakerhansen on 3 April 2010
Above: Alexander McQueen, spring 2008; right, artist Ana Juan’s tribute for the cover of The New Yorker.

My husband is a devoted reader of The New Yorker: he spends many a late night delving into lengthy, complex stories about the issues of the day, and I admire his persistence. I subscribe to no less than 20 magazines, and while I’ll put the New Yorker on the tall magazine pile every once and again, it often makes it into the recycle bag before I have the chance to read it.

The magazine’s annual style issue is a different matter: I love it. I–along with many other fashion lovers–was particularly moved by this year’s spring style cover, a haunting tribute to the late Alexander McQueen. I know most of the readers of W52 probably aren’t fashion lovers, but even for an art lover, McQueen’s stunning body of work is nothing short of genius. The butterfly headpiece is part of McQueen’s spring 2008 collection, a tribute to his mentor and friend, the late Isabella Blow, known for her dramatic style and inimitable hat collection.

Many bloggers, magazine editors and newspaper writers have written tributes to McQueen, but this simple artistic rendering of one of the designer’s most iconic moments is by far my favorite. Elle magazine interviewed Juan about the work–she’s a regular contributor to The New Yorker— and she said the butterfly piece, of all McQueen’s work, was the one that touched her most when she was working.

“I think it was the most poetic as a metaphor of death,” Juan told Elle about the cover, created with mixed acrylic and coal on paper. “The idea was to express a certain melancholic beauty without forgetting the Spring flair.”

For more on artist Ana Juan, visit her Web site.

Tugboat Presents: Push Gallery/outtakes

Posted in Art news, Interview by sarahbakerhansen on 26 March 2010

I wrote a story that ran this week in the Omaha Reader about Joey Lynch’s newest project, Push Gallery, which will have its opening debut this April. Joey and I talked about a lot more than just the first show and the gallery launch during our morning hanging out. Over a few cups of some excellent French press coffee (thanks again, Joey) we talked about the state of Omaha redevelopment projects, ideas about what makes a good art show, the latest projects he’s brewing in his new basement studio and lots of other stuff.

Stay updated on the developments at Push via it’s Facebook fan page, and read more about Lynch below.

Thanks to Marlon A. Wright for providing an outtake from the photo shoot he did during the interview.

Lynch is known around the Omaha and Lincoln art scene for his large-scale screen print works, but lately he hasn’t been creating them as much, instead choosing to focus on working with bands to create merchandise and album covers.
His new studio–in the basement of Push–is where he’s been spending a lot of time lately, working on these band collaborations. He said it’s challenging spending time in the space, which is fluorescent-lit, and he might end up moving his desk space upstairs, where natural light reigns.
He said the communal live-work space he’s in now is working well.
Though he misses the bike rides to and from his live-work spaces, he said now that seems like wasted time.
“To me, it’s just like having a day job,” he said.
He didn’t tie the gallery opening to a certain date.
“I wanted to be in the space and get a feel for it,” he said. “I had to see it. Today (the day in March when we spoke), for the first time, it finally feels like what I wanted.”
Lynch said he learned a lot from the time he spent working at the Bemis Center in 2008: building walls was one thing, but installing and de-installing shows was another.
“One of my favorite times of any art show is when you go in with tools and clean and paint the walls and patch holes,” he said. “It brings the space back to blank. That’s when you really see a space.”
Lynch said he’s got plans for a grand opening of Push gallery this spring. Stay tuned for details.

Photo by Marlon A. Wright of MAW Photography™