Tasked with taking a headline from The New York Times and making a piece of art from it, the Work of Art contestants created some of their best and worst work to date, but the subhead that lingers over this season remains “Is this a vital reality show?”
It’s always interesting to watch the artists early on, to see who gets an idea quickly and begins to execute it, and who flounders before cobbling something together. The first set, of course, does not mean it will necessarily contain the winner; neither do the flounderers always fail. But the thing about Work of Art that’s becoming clear now is that its most engaging sections are the scenes in which art is being created and how it’s judged — the stuff that usually makes competition shows entertaining, the sniping and joking between contestants, is tedious on Work of Art. This week, I would have liked, for example, to see more footage of Sara and Lola drawing their pieces — I thought Sara’s watercolor sketches in particular were striking.
The only funny exchange all night was the flirty critique Lola gave The Sucklord’s boring oil-spill newspaper assemblage: “It’s, like, not-clever Robert Rauschenberg,” she said, accurately. Sucklord moaned, “I just spent five hours ripping off an artist I don’t even like!” It continues to amaze me that of all these artists, it’s Sucklord who’s made a go of it as a pro in the real world, selling pieces for substantial prices. That guy should wish he could rip off Rauschenberg well.
At the gallery show, people circled warily around the banality sprinkled with bits of information. An exceedingly cute little boy pointed hopefully to, perhaps, a piece of art just off-camera; I have a feeling the toddler raspberry he then blew at it may have been edited out.
At the judging session, there were no fireworks, and a certain amount of predictability. The pieces by Young, Dusty, and Lola were the judges’ favorites. Young won with a minimalist commentary on the news coverage of the embattled Chinese artist Ai Weiwei — it was a clean, clear piece that, like other of Young’s entries, seemed a bit dull to me. I thought Lola’s mixed-media piece of spidery line drawings and newsprint-wrapped objects was much more engaging, and judge Jerry Saltz seemed to think so too. I guess he was outvoted.
In the bottom three were Sarah, Bayete, and The Sucklord. Bayete’s simplistic literal-mindedness finally caught up with him and he was evicted, but we all knew The Sucklord should have been the one to go.
I hate to knock sincerity, but it’s that quality that makes so much of the artists’ interactions with each other, with the judges, and with their material so often tedious. Almost everyone except for Sucklord (who’s just become a snide boor), Dusty (whose sincerity is backed up by technical skill), and Lola (who’s proven to be a combination of Nicole and Jaclyn from season one — a talented minx) has proven disappointing in various ways.
I suppose I should end optimistically and reemphasize that the best work this week was the best art in the season thus far, but is that enough to keep Work of Art engaging?