Work of Art: The Next Great Artist announced its winner almost two weeks ago, but the art world hasn't stopped griping about it yet. Because Bravo just issued a casting call for a second season of the reality show—the first season averaged about 1.2 million viewers—the conversation will continue for a while. You can see some highlights (or lowlights) of the season in our slide show, above.
In case you missed Work of Art (you can watch Season One's 10 episodes for free on CastTV), here's a summary: Fourteen artists, including a surprisingly large Chicagoland contingent, competed for $100,000 and a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum. (On the fifth floor, but still.) In each episode, they had to create art responding to a silly challenge—Make a work about your ride in a product-placed Audi, for example—in an absurdly small amount of time. At the end of each episode, judge China Chow booted someone off with the grating catchphrase, "Your work of art didn't work for us." Ouch. But did the show really hurt anyone?
1. Audience members who tried to turn Work of Art into a drinking game: Yes.
If you took a shot whenever contestant Jaclyn Santos painted or photographed herself naked, whenever the judges rewarded realism over abstraction or conceptualism, or whenever someone referred to the "world famous" Brooklyn Museum, by now you'd be cast on A&E's Intervention.
2. The contestants: Based on what I've watched and interviews with contestants—which, I believe, are likely tempered by agreements with Bravo—no.
The art critic took some heat for serving as a judge, but his recaps of the show for New York developed a big following.
4. The Brooklyn Museum: Yes.
While 23-year-old winner Abdi Farah improved amazingly during the last two episodes, he's not the Next Great Artist, and the museum shouldn't have treated him as such. But it was having a credibility crisis long before Farah's exhibition opened there August 14.
5. Civilization: Maybe.
While I can't bring myself to recommend Work of Art, I'm glad it aired. Every week, it gave me an excuse to talk about art with people outside the art world. It turns out those people are savvy enough to know that reality TV and reality aren't the same. How could the show warp the art world or change the way artists express themselves any more than market forces and M.F.A. programs already do? (Has Project Runway irrevocably altered fashion?)
Instead of acting like art is doomed, or bragging that you never watched, wouldn't it be more productive to tell your friends how Work of Art gets it wrong? Video and new-media art exist. Performance art shouldn't be too weird to win. An artwork's quality doesn't depend on how it makes us feel. And most artists make work about something other than themselves, at least occasionally.
For juicy criticism of Work of Art, check out:
Paddy Johnson's many posts about Work of Art at her blog Art Fag City.
Carolina Miranda's "Bravo's Work of Art Riles Up the Art World" in Time.