Week Fifty Two

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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