Text by Jerry Saltz and Image via NYMAG [FULL ARTICLE]
It’s baaaa-aaaack! I’m sorry.
Work of Art, the reality-TV game show — or more accurately, that unscripted sitcom that features me as a judge — has returned for its second year. I’m as shocked as anyone that this strange, strange show lasted past season one. But it did. Blazingly, evidentially. Even more surprising, I know last season’s shows are now being aired around the world, because I’m getting lots of e-mails from South Americans upset that Peregrine got eliminated, and from Germans asking me what the show’s “concept” is. In New York people still stop me on the street and say, “Hey, you’re that reality art judge!”
Feelings are more mixed in my crowd. Whenever the show comes up, Peter Schjeldahl, my good friend and New Yorker art critic, sadly shakes his head at me and says, “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry.” So let me say something to all those who hate this show and to the many who send me angry-e-mails, post nasty comments on my Facebook Page, tweet mean things about me, or write articles about how this TV show is destroying art: I’m not trying to hurt anything. I get mad at things in the art world too: at idiot billionaires flying mindless millionaire artists to bloated biennials to party down on private yachts; at seven-figure prices paid for derivative dreck that supposedly “critiques the system;” at cuckoo collectors like Adam Lindeman opining in the New York Observer that MoMA’s de Kooning show is “dated,” “quaint,” “bland,” and “predictable” and sniffs that he didn’t read the great de Kooning bio because “I’m a student of the postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida…”; at gilded auctions attended by those who get their kicks from being profligate in public; at curators flying from city to city to speak on one other’s panels about “The Role of the Curator”; at tenured academics who can’t turn the page from 1968. I grant that Work of Art is a light thing at a time when heavy things are afoot. But it doesn’t feel destructive, vile, or annoying like these other things do. Okay, maybe it’s annoying sometimes.
I never thought seriously of saying no to this show. It gets me out of the house, and stops me from being alone at my computer all the time. I love the free food on-set. I especially love learning how shows like this get made. And I know we’re not supposed to say this in the art world, but it’s really fun to do. On the selfish side, I’m trying to see if art-criticism can be more elastic and populist. I want to see if criticism can coherently be performed for audiences outside art-land, where we have weird ways of talking that many of us don’t actually understand. I’m trying to see if it’s possible to have what we always say we want: To have more people look at, appreciate, and be exposed to art, wherever it comes from, however it’s seen.
This week, I really liked that the show captured some of the anxiety, ridiculousness, and chaos of making art, as it introduced the fourteen contestants. It may surprise viewers to hear this, but we judges are told nothing about the artists’ backstories or biographies. I learn that stuff only when I see the show — for instance, that Michelle (currently an assistant to the artist Marilyn Minter) was in a terrible hit-and-run accident months ago and has just relearned how to walk. We often hear complaints that certain artists have been cast for their looks, though I find, as an older person, that all of them look young and beautiful. Except the one who calls himself Sucklord. (“What kind of bullshit name is this?” I thought when I met him. He claimed he’s “like Warhol,” and just as I began to wonder whether he’d been put on the set as a Bravo prank, the show’s super-suave artist mentor, Simon du Pury, mentioned that he actually owns Sucklord’s work.) Despite his stupid name, as the first episode developed, I started to feel a strange camaraderie for this fellow-non-looker who gets by on energy and attitude. Whereupon contestant Lola cooed that she “finds him kind of attractive.” Argh. Youth trumps everything. Fuck me.