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Bravo's 'Work of Art' tries for something novel, falls flat

June 24, 2010 | 11:08 am


In its third episode, Bravo's "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist" threw the book at its remaining contestants, and the results weren't pretty.

The reality TV show challenged its participants to create cover art for a series of classic novels -- Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine," and Bram Stoker's "Dracula." The winning creation will be published by Penguin Books.

Adding to the pressure in this round was a new time constraint: Contestants had to complete their designs in less than a day.

The pressure-cooker atmosphere wasn't conducive to great creative thinking. Panic set in for most of the contestants. Judith, the 61-year-old New York-based artist, created a fingerprint chalk painting for "Pride and Prejudice" but was unhappy with the results and decided late in the game on a design featuring the title of the book spelled backwards.

Abdi, the art teacher, created a photo-sculptural design for "Frankenstein" but also decided to scrap it late in the competition, starting over with an abstract spray-paint-with-stenciling concept.

Jaclyn, the Long Island City artist, photographed herself topless (from behind) for her "Pride and Prejudice" cover, but she misspelled the author's last name (as Austin), causing her to break down in tears later.

Miles, who won last week's competition, took an unconventional approach by speed-reading "Frankenstein" before beginning his design. His cover art used a fire motif to reference the Promethean aspects of Shelley's novel.

When it came to judgment time, the panel could only identify two works that merited the label of finalist. John, the art studio manager from Los Angeles, created an abstract design for "The Time Machine" featuring a large red spherical object at its center. Mark, the fry cook who moonlights as a photographer, designed a sexy, blood-soaked cover for "Dracula."

The winner (spoiler alert!) was ....

... John's abstract cover for "The Time Machine," which the panelists praised for its ambiguity and conceptual daring. They also had plenty of nice things to say about Mark's design, which they said was the most commercially oriented of the group.

This week's loser was Judith, whose backwards-spelled "Pride and Prejudice" cover baffled the judges. "Oh, Judith," sighed disappointed host China Chow upon viewing the artist's design.

In the end, Judith proved to be a bit of a sore loser. The artist bad-mouthed one of her fellow underachieving contestants in her exit interview and seemed to harbor contempt for the book-cover assignment.

"Maybe I didn't really belong in this situation, away from my own process. ... I'm not interested in having a job designing book covers," she said.

One wonders why a self-described "fine artist" who isn't interested in commercial enterprises signed up for a cable TV reality show.

-- David Ng

Photo: A shot of Judith's cover for "Pride and Prejudice" from Episode 3 of "Work of Art." Credit: Bravo


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Comments () | Archives (16)

Best episode so far and the best piece won, in my opinion. The whole group; judges and contestants; seem to be lost with the assignments dealing with "fine art." At least when they call it a "commercial" assignment everyone is in their element. Seems like the whole show is about bundling the fine art industry and the commercial art industry.

It's kinda sad that the mysterious curtain over the fine arts industry is being lifted. A community of "starving artists" could probably do without the exploitation. Not surprised though, the show is spear-headed by Sarah Jessica Parker with her Sex in the City reputation.

If you want to do something for the fine art industry, why not open a new gallery? Or better yet, buy some art.

Bravo should combo this show with Top Chef Masters and get these people some food! Grand prize: a lifetime membership to the gym!

( some typo's fixed)

I’m so glad you decide to review last night’s work of art. Despite it's flaws, this show is hitting on all the issues I've dreamed about discussing on Culture Monster. It's a media world! So despite the potential for distortion, will art ever have a wider audience (for good or bad) than a TV show?
In this case the subject of the snow evolved into how hard doing an illustration is. I've always felt that illustration was dismissed my the art world as an uninformed fashionable put down that fine artists to often rely on to feel superior. "Oh that's just Illustration." Has been the automatic lazy dismissal phrase to discount skilled artists careers that has been a cover for all the sputtering emperors who wear no clothes.
In the case of last nights show obviously there wasn’t enough time, but I can’t tell you how many illustrators have to do their work overnight with a ton of BS from Art Directors. It isn’t easy, but the contestants had total freedom, something illustrators would die for. Bottom line was you couldn’t just suddenly have skills that help translate great visual communicant ideas, but there is good reason to have them…

Since modern art is so often about appropriating images the contestants might have gone here for ideas:

It’s looks like the winner might have had a look as his style looked very much like a sixties SIFI illustration for the company they wore working for. Illustration art has always respectfully reflected influence from the fine art world, only to get distain and theft in return.
Finally, it would have been really classy if the company paid the finalists. I still think the show has hit every right note; everyone who won should have, everyone who lost was on the money.

Agree with you 100%, William W. With the 1st episode of this show, I made up my mind I wasn't going to let the hokey reality-show format interfere with the fact that I enjoy seeing these artists and their work. I like seeing the bits & pieces of their productive process, the bits & pieces of their thoughts about it all, and by and large the art they turn out. As far as last night's loser, Judith, is concerned: I liked her thinking and the visual impact of her cover, all the while knowing that as a commercial product it was dead in the water (and her too).
My fave, for what it's worth: The burnt piece by Miles. Thought the fire-burnt part, the electrical wires, etc. reflected the Frankenstein novel perfectly.

In the case of Judith’s failure… There is a fine line between art that you can let the viewer decipher or bring what they want to the work and being so clever (in your own mind) you lose sight of the ability to communicate. If you do backward lettering their needs to be a reason for it that relates to the books Identity and in the case of a book jacket we need to be able to read it even backwards. As far as enigmatic Miles, he was close, I think he was missing a human element of having flesh or veins connected to his man made parts or making the lettering light up would have clinched it.

Formulaic wise, it is certainly sticking to the project runway/top chef template. Editing to make someone look foolish, how many more negative comments could be made about Judith in this episode? Oooh, the kooky older lady and it got stale.

Still, I am enjoying the process in this show, it reminds me of art school back in the day.

Instead of selling people out as reality casting contestants, though, they should provide some history and informative art relevant usefulness. I would have loved to have seen the Picasso cover and the many other famous painter's who have done book covers work. Why not show some writers who paint (Henry Miller?) There are lots of ways this show could be different. Why not ask the artists what writers inspire them and if they dont read then why not? It wasnt much of a celebration of writers, other than Miles tribute to Mary Shelley.

Completely agree, Charles J : Miles' piece was amazing. One of the judges said something like "I like it,but I just wish it had more to do with the novel". What?!? I've never seen a better translation of an idea -- the biological meddling implications of the 'DNA-like' twist, machinery instructions, a burnt mistake? What else is there to the novel?! Suspecting they just couldn't let him win a third, 'cause if they had ever read the book, that piece would have to give you the same chills. Granted, Miles' is a bit of a concrete a-hole, but he's the type of genius that comes along very rarely. I LOVE watching all of them think.

WW: Hmm... about Judith - I don't think she 'lost the ability to communicate'. My suspicions are that she, as the outsider, was clearly communicating, saying that she was a bit put off by the show and/or the other artists, and wanted to do an 'in your face' farewell with her edirp dna ecidujerp cover, fully aware that it had zero commercial value and would get her bounced.

Charles you get the art rationalization crown for that stretch of an excuse for Judith’s stubbornly minimal artistic capabilities. She had to know to some extent in pre- interviews what she’s was going up against. She knows what a contest is, a commission is, what an art director does, how a TV show works…
Please, do I have to site her age and experience? (OK I will) of all of the contestants she should be the most worldly wise. Judith is no shrinking violet who committed artistic suicide as a political statement or she would have unambiguously declared that theory on her exit.
As rationalization king can you come up with a explanation on why the contestants as a group had so much trouble doing an illustration? Most fine artists think it’s so easy it’s for a discipline for simpletons. How about you?

William - I'll turn down your proffered 'crown'. It wasn't an excuse, nor a rationalization. It was, as I plainly said, a suspicion. (& no, I won't accept a crown as a mind reader, either.)
Furthermore, I can indeed come up with an explanation as to why they had so much trouble doing the illustration:– any conscientious artist striving to excel should have 'trouble' with any task set for them, whether it's to do a book cover or a huge wall mural, etc. etc. And let’s not forget that 1) they're under the pressure of a strict time limit, and 2) they’re shooting for a couple of wee prizes, namely $100K & a show at a prestigious museum. Do you think that if they’re truly skilled they should just quickly dash off something because they see the task as a piece of cake? I'll hand you some sort of crown when I think of a name for it.
BTW: How do you know Judith ‘would have unambiguously declared [artistic suicide as a political statement] on her exit'? Hmm…Maybe the Mind Reader Crown would fit you.

Apparently you can't read minds or read letters, I answered all your questions already.
Yes the truly skilled can just dash something off that is great overnight if they have the skills. That why its a shame the art world has written of academic skill as a waste of time, it was the true reason Judith hit the curb. She's not even a good as a talented folk artist. Even is you are right, that "I'm not going to play" theory is a cover for not being able to compete. It's not taking a artistic high moral ground, it's quitting to save face.

I've enjoyed 3 episodes so far. I love that there is Art on TV. I like watching the process and seeing the result. I love that Art is being discussed on message boards. If some people who are intimidated or uninformed about Art can find something familiar about Art through this show, and develop and interest in it, then all the better.

To WW et al.: Just goes to show ya, they aint no accountin' for taste in art. Or as the French put it, 'Shakun avek son goot'.

The judges/critics have consistently pointed out, looked for, and been drawn to pieces that express details about the artist who made them. The more the artist is 'in' the art, the more they like it. THis has been Miles' secret weapon. He was tired, did a work about not sleeping-Presto! The one that used the partially nude photo may have won, if she had not 'faded' herself out of the pic. It has been a common element for the judges to comment on.

I think in a competition it’s logical to have some general guidelines. Granted, putting yourself into your art literally seems a little obvious, but in the end what artist doesn't express themselves in their art? I find it funny that so few posters have come after the illustration theme, perhaps it a sign that academics are coming back into as an acceptable form of expression in the art world.

Hey, what gives? No review of lassnite's (July 7) Bravo show? Gotta give folks the chance to gripe, gloat, slash & burn (not necessarily in that order).


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