When people ask me how I spent my summer, "watching reality tv" isn't the answer I'd like to give, even if it's the truth. Tuning in to Work of Art, Bravo's latest in creative challenge shows like Project Runway and Top Chef, has consumed what should have been slower months, with viewing parties, interviews, and endless coverage on blogs and major media sites. I haven't been to an opening in months where someone hasn't talked to me about the show.
I don't have cable, so most Wednesday evenings I've traveled to watch Work of Art. I took in four or five episodes at Judith Braun's studio, a contestant who was eliminated early on in the competition and hosted viewing parties for her friends. Unlike most contestants, she's also an active member of the fine art world, so many artists came to her parties and would hang out after the show to discuss the art. Mostly we voiced a list of complaints along the lines of "He could have just punched some holes in the piece and he'd achieve the same results," or "as if the dripping illustrated blood was the only problem that piece had." I used these conversations as brainstorming sessions for the posts I wrote the following day.
I also watched the show at Soda, a bar in Prospect Heights that screens Work of Art in collaboration with the Brooklyn Museum. This crowd tended not to stick around to chat about the episodes, but I liked that The Brooklyn Museum gave out prizes to those who correctly guessed who would win that night's episode. I always chose the contestant I wanted to see eliminated, not the one I thought would get the boot, so I never took home the prize. Much to my chagrin, picking Jaclyn Santos week after week—the artist best known for her fake boobs and whining—didn't get her eliminated any faster.
The show never ended at 11 pm, but continued throughout the week until the next airing. After each viewing, I spent most of Thursday discussing the episode with my interns, and writing the show recaps. During the rest of the week I moderated and responded to comments published on the blog, often made by contestants themselves. I like covering the show, but I question the wisdom of putting quite so much time into a program that only occasionally responds to the art itself. A triptych of black heads fashioned to look like bombs, a public artwork showcasing the worst tenets of minimalism and a masturbating self-portrait symbolizing "female" have all been amongst Bravo's "top" winners, despite the fact that in each case, other contestants had produced better works. Almost without fail judges rewarded representational art and exposed boobs, regardless of their actual merit. Surely Bravo producers have a very big hand in the decisions made.
With my blog coverage of the show, I've tried to offer an evaluation of the work I felt better reflected the quality of the art. This, in combination with the two weeks I spent prior to Work of Art's airing creating unflattering supplementary biographies for the contestants did not make me any friends, and will likely result in a few awkward conversations. I'll meet many of the contestants in person today at The Brooklyn Museum during the final screening. I hope also to connect with the show's producers and editors—if only to assault their ears with my opinions about its results.