By Ken Tucker
Updated October 26, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT

Work of Art

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There’s a distressing pattern beginning to emerge in this season of Work of Art: When it comes time to determine which artist-contestant is going to be eliminated, there’s so much bad art lying thick upon the ground, picking a justifiably clear-cut loser is impossible. And as for the winner? It’s usually the creator of the least derivative piece, perhaps the one artist who provoked more than a “Meh.” Or as Lola said about another competitor’s work: “It’s kinda like, ‘Oh, yeah? And… ?'”

This week’s challenge should have been fun: In a riff on an Andy Warhol soup-can painting, the artists were tasked with creating a piece of Pop Art. “Make it pop!” said “mentor” Simon de Pury. Twice. Maybe he did that because this week’s special penalty was a double elimination.

By contrast, an added enticement this week was introduced by a special guest: my boss, Entertainment Weekly managing editor Jess Cagle, who told the artists that the winner would have a two-page spread in EW and reach “over 11 million readers.” “I’m a fame-whore,” said The Sucklord, almost drooling. “That’s 11 million potential customers [for my art]!”

The self-promoting “super-villain” went straight for a cliche: He made a “Winning! Collection,” based on phrases by (groan) Charlie Sheen: sexy dolls, bottles of tiger blood, warlock dust. Speaking of dust, Dusty created a fast-food restaurant garbage receptacle with the legend “HOW COULD YOU” painted on it; this was meant to be a commentary on the health dangers of junk food. De Pury took one look at it and said in his best accented English, “I don’t think we look good in Entertainment Weekly.” Everybody’s an editor…

Poor Jazz-Minh: In addition to her unfortunate name-spelling, being raised on a commune kept her from knowing much about pop culture, so she randomly fixated on Britney Spears and decided to photograph herself making a paparazzi grimace — something, she said, “I wish Britney Spears had the power to do.” Honey, Britney has more imaginative power in her left false eyelash than you do. I mean, this is a woman who has the phrase “Bite Me” tattooed onto the inside of her lip, and she thinks Spears is unoriginal? We all did feel bad, though, when The Sucklord spilled some paint on one of her two photographs and she gamely said she loved the spontaneous spatter.

(The Sucklord seems to have a thing about his testicles. When she forgave him, he said, “Thank you for not cutting my balls off.” Earlier in the hour, he had confided to the camera that his flirting with Lola could get him in trouble with his girlfriend: “She will literally cut my balls off.” Warning to women who date Sucklord: He thinks you’re a ball-buster.)

Meanwhile, the cliched art concepts just kept on a-comin’. Leon painted American flags and mixed them with Starbucks and Facebook logos. (Did he never see Jasper Johns’ flags, and why didn’t Simon or any of the judges clue him in?) Michelle did a piece involving Coke Zero soda-can imagery. What’s that? You say Warhol did Coke cans? Michelle had a ready response: “But now it’s zero,” she said plaintively. Oh, kids today…

In the end, the winner was Young’s large-scale, Robert Indiana-style painting of the phrase “Prop. 8” — the California initiative that eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry.

As for the double elimination, the judges narrowed the losers down to three: Dusty, Jazz-Minh, and Leon. Jazz-Minh was an easy pick, and she gets retroactive bonus points for not ratting out Sucklord for spilling the paint the judges disliked so much. But booting Leon instead of Dusty was a bit of a shocker. The judges’ criticism of Dusty’s banal garbage piece was far more withering than what we heard about Leon’s flags-plus-logos. It was an unsatisfying ending that left me feeling that harsh critiques of Leon were edited out so as to give Dusty’s ultimate salvation some surprise.

How are you feeling about this season’s Work of Art? Given that most of the artists are rather drab personalities — except for The Sucklord, who’s rapidly becoming nothing but personality — I’d prefer the producers show us more of the judges’ give-and-take. Are they arguing passionately? Are they dismayed at the banality of so much of the work? I’d much rather hear a critic I respect like Jerry Saltz analyze the work on-camera, instead of having to wait to read his super-fine blog at New York magazine.

What say you?

Twitter: @kentucker

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