This week Bravo unveiled the website and held a screening for its Project Runway with easels, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist. We watch just about every program on Bravo, but this is going to be a hard sell.
I've sat through Millionaire Matchmaker, Million Dollar Listing, and A Million Reasons to Love Andy Cohen, but this show—executive produced by Sarah Jessica Parker—just seems as bad as Shear Genius, Top Design, and Boy Meets Boy rolled together. We're reserving full judgment until we actually see the show when it debuts in June, but here are some preliminary problems.
A Work on Mixed Media: On all the other professional competition series (Project Runway, Top Chef, et al) everyone does the same thing or has basically the same set of skills. Sure, one person might cook Indian food and other vegan casseroles, but everyone knows how to chop an onion. The contestants on the show are print makers, painters, sculptors, architects, graphic designers, and something that has to do with turning GPS into art. Who fucking knows. Whatever that is, all these things are very different and need very different skills to create them well. How can a challenge be "make a painting" if not everyone can paint, or "make a film" when not everyone knows how to operate a Flip camera (hello, product placement!). Instead it will be like "Come up with a piece of art inspired by your favorite bedtime story," and we'll get a bunch of different bullshit from all these people. Judging these is like comparing apples to oranges or million dollar real estate agents to million dollar matchmakers. It's just not going to be a fair game.
Will The Real Artists Please Stand Up: I'm not going to say that the people on this show aren't real artists, but, come on, what kind of artist would be on a reality television program? Seriously. So, yes, Peregrine, you may have sold prints to the Whitney, but you are still on reality TV (and named after a fucking hobbit). Sure, Jamie Lynne, you might be a devout Christian who won best in show a few times, but you are not going to make it big after being on Bravo (and you're basically a Spears).
No One Takes This Seriously: The beautiful thing about Top Chef and Project Runway is that food and fashion professionals actually watch the show and think it's cool. People get jobs after being on the show. It not only makes them famous, but actually helps their careers. We have a hard time believing this is going to happen on Work of Art. Do you really think Charles Saatchi is going to have Jeff Koons over for margaritas to watch this show to discuss latching on to some undiscovered talent? Lots of art people don't even own televisions, and if they do it's so that they can look down on it and never turn it on.
Screw The Art World: Yes, the art world is bullshit. It's a bunch of willfully wacky artist types with outlandish personalities (great for reality television) who are trying to dupe a bunch of wealthy hedge funders into buying their work in the hopes that it will become popular and turn them a profit. The incestuous world of Art Basel and the West Chelsea gallery scene is not welcoming to outsiders. It is trying to foster the illusion of exclusivity, prestige, and big, big money to make a bunch of crazy people really rich. This is all. If it lets all the rabble from the middle of the country in to try to grab at the free wine and cheese at their openings, it's going to ruin the whole enterprise. (Look at what happened to Ryan McGinley!) This secret society might seem cool, hip, and mysterious. But it is really just one big giant fraud. One that doesn't want us at its parties.
A Picture and a Thousand Words: The art world is a fraud and so is the art it creates. It is no longer about creating aesthetically pleasing works or things that are objectively beautiful. It is about telling good stories. No work is complete without the narrative of how it was made. Like Jackson Pollock, "Oh, he was a horrible alcoholic who just threw paint around. Sure, they all look alike, but he peed on this one. Look, he put a cigarette out on this one." Obviously performance art is the worst offender of this, but it has infiltrated its way into all other disciplines. It's either about the materials, the process the artist went through to make it, or the concept behind it. We don't care if it's a column made out of turds from the field where the artists abandoned his puppy as a young boy. It's still a pile of shit, and no matter how much someone paid for it or how much we're supposed to like it, it still stinks.