Work of Art: The Next Great Artist premiered this week on Bravo, and it is quote-worthy, gooey fun. It’s got the same structure and feel as pre-Lifetime Project Runway (which originated on Bravo before it was lost in a custody battle), and if you think Michael Kors sounds a little full of himself when he preaches about the importance of fashion, wait till you get a load of these guys.
The show began, as reality competition shows do, by introducing the 14 contestants. This process was illustrated by their self-portraits, so there was immediately plenty of cattiness as they walked around, passively aggressively critiquing each other's work. I can tell you right now that the sound bites on this show are going to be amazing; the premiere included such gems as “I live to create and create to live” and “I’m really into lilies right now. And hermaphrodites.” I was surprised at how decidedly non-stereotypical most of the artists look. Sure, some have angular haircuts and tight pants and Bettie Page bangs, but some look like your average cubicle mate, and some are decidedly un-artist-like in appearance, like the jolly, big-boned Latino man (Mark) or the Stepford Wife with a penchant for flowery accessories (Jamie Lynn). Plus they all work in different media, from abstract oil to sculpture to Photoshop, and one of them seems to base her entire style in using the word “pussy.”
After meeting China Chow (the show's non-German Heidi Klum) and Simon de Pury (French Tim Gunn), the artists were immediately split into pairs and asked to create portraits of one another—an assignment, we were told, that’s more about “capturing the other person’s essence.” Look at that, we’ll be getting an art education, too!
The workroom scenes—as with Project Runway—are a lot of fun; we get to see the artists at work and watch them annoy each other. Simon occasionally pops in to check on their progress, but most of what he says is ignored by this group—in their confessionals, the one who don't do well with criticism retaliate with commentary like, “I’m just going to let the piece take a life of its own.” Side note: Simon's going to need a Make it work!-style catchphrase.
Unlike on Project Runway, the Work of Art judges were given the chance to talk about their perspective on what makes art art (this would sound ridiculous on any other show, but works here). Judging took place during a gallery show (complete with cups of wine, because you can’t have a gallery opening without vino!), after which the judges gathered, just like they do on Runway and Top Chef, to discuss the quality of each piece. While some spoke of how each artwork spoke to them, I appreciated gallery owner and Michael Kors archetype Bill Powers, who simply said, "I couldn't sell this piece to somebody."
Just as I’d hoped, larger-than-life performance artist Nao was the first contestant to challenge the judges’ critiques. “I’m not responsible for your experience of my work,” she scoffed, unknowingly coining what I hope will be the Work of Art version of “I’m not here to make friends.”
Quirky OCD hipster Miles won the first challenge; sweet abstract oil painter Amanda was sent home. And with that, the internet lit up with debate over whether anyone has the authority to deem someone else’s art worthy, or to say what art is worth. But let's be honest, looking to a reality show to answer those questions is pointless. What Work of Art does for me is provide a “can’t look away” glimpse into the minds of artists who are just nutty enough to be on TV.
Work of Art airs Wednesdays at 11pm on Bravo.