“Kitsch Me If You Can”
October 12th, 2011
As we drew closer to the season premiere of Bravo’s Work of Art, I began to get very nervous.
Last summer, I wrote a number of pieces that I think accurately capture my general obsession with this show, a complex and enormously flawed exercise that revealed things about the artifice of reality programming, the perils of reality editing, and the challenge of combining reality competition structure with something as purely subjective as fine art. However, while these difficulties may make it problematic within the fine art community, as a television critic I found Work of Art to be one of the most truly satisfying reality series I had ever seen. Each episode showed us something new about the artist, and their personal narratives were constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed numerous times over the course of the season. So whether I was writing about the show at large, or about two of its contestants (Miles Mendenhall and Jaclyn Santos), I had a lot to say.
Sadly, I will not have time to say as much this fall simply due to time constraints, but going into tonight’s premiere I wondered if I was going to have anything to say at all. For some reason I became profoundly worried as of late that the show wouldn’t be able to catch lightning in a bottle twice, especially since it didn’t seem like the show did so on purpose last time around. The tension that once sat at the center of the show could easily be diffused with a production staff now aware of the series’ flaws, and a set of contestants who fully understand what it is that the show is trying to accomplish.
While I have not seen beyond tonight’s premiere, I feel as though I can state with some authority that all has not been lost. “Kitsch Me If You Can” is an extremely strong opener, managing to introduce the artists while simultaneously focusing almost exclusively on their process rather than their personalities. Although “The Sucklord” may be larger than life, for the most part the cast seems to consist of artists with points of view who will be tested and tested again over the course of the competition.
And the results, at least in tonight’s finale, were pretty fantastic.
August 4th, 2010
New York Magazine’s Art Critic Jerry Saltz is aware that Work of Art is less than revered within the art community, a response which Carolina A. Miranda nicely captured at TIME this week. In his review of last night’s final episode before the finale, Saltz reflected on the experience as he saw it, partly out of an effort to convince his critics that he wasn’t sullying his name through his participation and partly to convince himself of the same:
I know that much of the art world is appalled that an art critic would even be on a reality show. I feel this way sometimes, too. Yet, leaving after this episode I felt more as I do when I’m teaching, and get totally involved with students whose names I will not remember in 24 months. Only, I was pouring everything I had into this TV show and these artists…I began to see that with only one week to go that this whole experience, weirdness, wildness and all, was forming into some sort of larger whole.
I’ve written a great deal about how the show has been a mess of contradictions, so tonight’s episode was a key test of whether or not it would reach some form of cohesive conclusion; as Saltz notes, “involvement” is a key factor in any reality show, wherein we get caught up in each character’s journey and it becomes less about the general premise (finding the next great artist, or the top chef, or the next great fashion designer) and more about choosing which of the final contestants deserves their shot at stardom. It’s a key difference, and I think that Saltz nicely captures what I’ve witnessed from the comfort of my couch: through all of its contradictions, Work of Art is a competition which intensely focuses on the creative process, which makes its conclusion seem like far more of a personal journey than other reality series.
Or, at least it does for the artists who embraced the idea as Saltz did.
Who is Miles Mendenhall? Confronting Work of Art‘s Enigmatic Antihero
August 4th, 2010
To take a page out of Mad Men’s book, “Who is Miles Mendenhall?”
In basic terms, Miles Mendenhall is one of the artists on Bravo’s Work of Art, simultaneously the summer’s most problematic and most fascinating reality series. The series is a total contradiction, emphasizing the value of art by subjecting artists to challenges which seem designed to dilute their work and maximize reality television drama, and yet the resulting pressure placed on artists gives us a front row seat to their creative process which would otherwise be impenetrable (I wrote more about this earlier this summer).
Miles sits at the heart of this contradiction, in that he seems to be the most talented artist amongst those remaining but is also the one contestant who is unquestionably “playing the game.” Never before has there been a reality television contestant whose behaviour revealed so clearly the slippery notion of “reality” within these series, and without him I strongly believe that Work of Art wouldn’t be half the series it is. Regardless of your opinion of the way he is playing the game, the fact remains that he has managed to be one of the first reality contestants in history who panders to the cameras while simultaneously subverting the artifice of the reality show he’s taking part of.
Love him or hate him, you’ve got to admit that’s a work of art.