The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2010

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SEPT 2010 Issue

WORK OF ART TALK Critics on Bad TV

My father is a painter. When I called him, in a craze after obsessively watching nearly the whole season of Bravo’s Work of Art in one sitting, he told me that being a chef is about keeping a kitchen clean and consistently putting out a solid product day in and day out. It’s not, he said, about making one new dish in 10 minutes out of three esoteric ingredients. Meaning, of course, that Work of Art isn’t any different than Top Chef, I shouldn’t expect it to be, and I’d be better off turning my attention to other matters entirely. He’s right. But the one argument I heard in defense of the show that seemed to make sense, one that recalls my favorite position on Ann Liv Young (another train wreck I wish I had the power to ignore, but don’t), is that the phenomenon holds value in its ability to inspire discussion. I can’t quite get beyond my initial “makes me want to stab myself in the eye with a sharp pencil” response, but others, including a couple of writers in this issue of the Rail, have explored further; the gloriously inane conversation speaks volumes about mainstream commercial television and, like its topic, not a thing about art. What follows is a best-of of sorts; this summer’s guilty, art-world semi-pleasure; a discussion with all the depth of celebrity tabloid coverage. Still, it’s just so hard to look away:

The art critic Jerry Saltz is the most engaged and illuminating of the judges (and I promise you that I was not inspired to like him more than anyone else just because he is the husband of my colleague, the New York Times art critic Roberta Smith). The socialite gallerist Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn is the best looking.

–Gina Bellafante, New York Times

Critic Jerry Saltz was the biggest disappointment for me: Is it the editing, or does he really believe that the mission statement of art is, “Art is a way of showing the outside world what your inside world is like.” So is vomiting.

–Jen Graves, Seattle Stranger

I’m fairly certain the show gave critic Jerry Saltz a pair of Puma sneakers, as I’ve never seen him wear them out gallery hopping.

–Paddy Johnson,

I immediately realized that if he was ingratiating himself to McGinness, he was probably doing this with us all along. Look very closely at this scene and you’ll see me grimacing and turning away in total disgust.

–Jerry Saltz, New York Magazine blog (509 comments on this post)

In the real art world, artists don’t compete for exhibitions through assignments like “Make a work of art based on your drive through a city in an Audi,” or “Design a cover for this Penguin classic novel.” 

–Greg Lindquist,

Fifty years of marvelous, disruptive paintings and photographs by Alex Katz, Chuck Close, Dan McCleary, Gerhard Richter, Cindy Sherman, John Sonsini, Rineke Dijkstra and countless other first-rate artists, internationally known and not, and we’re still trotting out the wheezing cliché about portraiture’s required significance being bound up with the revelation of the sitter’s inner essence? Really? The 17th century lives on.

–Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times

Christopher Knight eviscerated it, and that’s enough for me to know that there are other things tonight that interest me more.

–Tyler Green, Modern Art Notes blog,

In the traditionally opaque world of art and art criticism, where opinions are usually safely buried under layers of jargon, “Work of Art” has caused a sensation. On the one hand, its very existence has ruffled art critics, who deride the concept as puerile...

–Carolina A Miranda, Time Magazine

The comments after the article demonstrate a schism that a show as pedestrian as this one cannot bridge.

–“Patrick,” commenting on an post about Miranda’s Time article, which positions the show as more concerned with a mass audience than an art audience. The article also quotes artfagcity’s Paddy Johnson, who says she’d like to be in the cast next season.

When the loser’s dismissal is recited, “Your work of art didn’t work for us,” what the host neglects to say is neither your art nor your personality any longer works for the show.

–Greg Lindquist,

It is arrogance that might be forgivable if the judges were my mother, Larry King, and my fourth grade art teacher, Ms. Parkerson.

–Shane McAdams, The Brooklyn Rail

Rather than making art, the cast is charged with dramatizing the act of making art. Before the series ends, one or more of the contestants might recognize that. (It’s what the academic critics call television’s “performative” quality.)

–Christopher Knight, The Los Angeles Times

Next week, Sarah Jessica Parker shows up again. Which artist who is not Peregrine will be victorious? Our money’s on Miles, though in our hearts, we’re pulling for Abdi.

–Hillary Busis, The Wall Street Journal

Since the onset of video art, countless forays have been made into television, and specifically reality TV, but none before have so scrupulously mimicked the conventions of mainstream.

–Alex Gartenfeld, Art in America

I don’t think the art world has infiltrated the mainstream. The mainstream has infiltrated the art world. The mainstream is like, “Oh, a show about artists, that’s cool,” whereas the art world is more up in arms about it. I think a lot of people in the art world have been distressed that the conversation on the show isn’t up to their level.

–Nao Bustamante, in an interview with Brian Sloan, NYFA Current Magazine

By comparison, Jeffrey Deitch’s never-really-seen 2005–2006 show Artstar, featuring artists relatively established and demonstrably more skeptical about the constraints of the show, looks like a bit of obscurantism.

–Alex Gartenfeld, Art in America

It suffers from comparison to the schmatta show’s glory days a few seasons back, when Project Runway garnered its own cult-like art-world following.

–Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times

The Tim Gunn character, auctioneer Simon de Pury, seems like he is hopped up on goofballs, and for his sake, I hope he is.

–Jen Graves, Seattle Stranger


Patricia Milder

PATRICIA MILDER is an art and performance writer based in Brooklyn. She was a former Managing Art Editor at the Brooklyn Rail.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2010

All Issues