« Previous | Culture Monster Home | Next »

Bravo TV's 'Work of Art' favors emo-hipster backstabber Miles Mendenhall

June 17, 2010 | 12:01 pm

Miles If little else, Bravo TV's "Work of Art" -- the new reality series set in the New York gallery scene -- proves that the art world is no different from just about every other profession: It's filled with sleaze, political intrigue and big egos run amok.

The series' second episode, which aired Wednesday night, set a new challenge for the contestants. Using discarded electronics appliances, they were tasked with making an original sculpture that reveals something about the inner essences of themselves and the objects they chose. 

Artist Jon Kessler, who is renowned for his mixed-media creations, made an appearance as a guest judge and sage.

The first half of the episode proceeded more or less uneventfully. The artists, who vary in age and artistic experience, seemed mostly drawn to old television sets, which they used in various configurations and states of semi-destruction.

From time to time, auction-house host Simon de Pury dropped in to deliver encouragement and to raise the occasional skeptical eyebrow.

As in last week's episode, there was little serious talk about art aside from banal generalities. In an indication of just how seriously the producers regard art history, there was no mention Wednesday of Marcel Duchamp, Nam June Paik or other pioneers in the field of found-object sculpture.

The camera seemed to linger most lovingly on hipster twink Miles Mendenhall, the bed-headed University of Minnesota graduate who talks endlessly about his obsessive-compulsive disorder and chronic insomnia.

Keep reading -- SPOILER ALERT -- about who won and who was sent packing.

Outwardly boyish and indie-spirited, Miles soon proved that he had the mentality of a corporate shark. During the judges' review of the completed sculptures, Miles stabbed one of his fellow contestants in the back by voicing unsolicited criticism of Trong Nguyen's failed work of art. Is Miles the show's  equivalent of Omarosa? It's too early to say, but every show needs a really good villain.

In the end, Miles won this week's competition for his bizarre installation featuring a pseudo-bed surrounded by sculptures of giant anuses. (Miles took a nap in his own creation, adding a level of performance art to the piece.) Trong was eliminated from the show for his simplistic work that featured a group of television sets staring at each other.

Next week, "Work of Art" will feature models posing in the nude for our remaining contestants. It's sure to add a jolt of uneasy humor to the series, which some have faulted for its lack of theatrics and drama. But if it's bad behavior in the art world that you want, you're better off revisiting Terry Zwigoff's underrated comedy "Art School Confidential."

-- David Ng

Photo: 'Work of Art' contestant Miles Mendenhall. Credit: Bravo

Trong TV review: 'Work of Art: The Next Great Artist' on Bravo

Twitter checks in on Bravo TV's 'Work of Art'

'Work of Art' on Bravo: What did the critics think?

Comments () | Archives (32)

I find it a little obnoxious that you decided to call him a back stabber. He said what he felt right to Trong's face. That's just honesty. Might be brutal, but it wasn't a back-stab.

Sure, Miles is eccentric (most artists are, regardless of reality TV), but if you don't think the producers are playing to his hipster, OCD, exhaustion side - then you are fooling yourself. And come on, Omarosa? The difference here is that I think he might actually be talented.

Yup. He's a face-stabber.

Miles seems like such a faker. He's got a cute face but he seems like hes overacting. If you really had OCD could you even be on a reality TV show?

Personality aside, he shouldn't have won because he didn't even use any of the found objects!!! I can't believe none of the judges noticed that. Everything he used was bought from the hardware store.

I agree with Liz. Although, yes, it was a little blunt and upfront; it was also an honest opinion. Personally, I would much prefer someone say something like that to my face then behind my back. I don't think anything that he did was "face stabbing" (???) or Back-stabbing.

Besides. The piece WAS distractingly boring. I'm sure Trong is talented, but it really did not show on that peice.

And Miles is my favorite contestant. He doesn't have to try. He just does. And he's pretty awesome at it.

He deserves some compassion for his outburst, people dont always understand that OCD and other disabilities can at times be so overwhelming, there is no ill-intention or malice toward the person on the other side of it. It was clear he was so uncomfortable and also unable to speak at first, just raise his hand. If it is mentioned (his outburtst to Trong) it should also be mentioned that stepping into the junk pile which would be torture for someone with OCD, made him go to sleep, which was his way of dealing with it.
The judges were off this week to send Trong home, he had much more to offer.

People with OCD and other issues need some slack in the just-doing-it-to-be-a-jerk category. If you watch the critique, he wasnt doing it to be hurtful and personal to Trong. It was his reaction to the moment just like going to sleep in the junk warehouse to deal with a pile of unorganized junk which is an OCD nightmare. He raised his hand a few times and tried to speak but couldnt until he finally blurted it out. Have some compassion.
Yeah, he mentions OCD alot, to remind people he is not going to behave like them and chances are you will find him weird or rude and he's telling you why. You are wonderful, Miles.
The judges were the on crack to send Trong home, though. What a bizarre decision with all he could have brought to the competition and they kept the vaccum lady? That was kind of the backstabbing moment of the show to me.

There seemed to be some arrogance in his criticism, but I fully agree with him. It's better to give feedback than to not at all.

television is all about editing. the producers decided to show miles' critique---which could have been what everyone was doing---the producers also have the final say on who stays and goes (read the fast moving text at the end of the show). this is a stage train wreck, which is why we watch. trong is lucky to be out of it.

Miles has it in the bag. He's got talent, looks and problems that make him endearing. You can see that the judges are falling in love with him. This Culture Monster hate is as spurious as half the artists on the show, by "hating” Miles, but by using that scruffy cute photo in this post, your making him the poster boy for the show. A pretty lamentable indictment, you can do better. I think it’s great there is a show about art on at all, it’s got its faults, but no were near the hypocrisy in the actual art world. So far everyone kicked of deserved it. LOVING IT!

First, having OCD does not give you permission to be a jerk. I'm going to assume he's jerk with OCD unless it is indicated what kind of OCD he has (like if he has a specific one that causes you to make unsolicited crap remarks). Second, not only was what he said uncalled for and rude, but completely useless in terms of a critique. Okay, if you think something is boring, why is it boring and what can the artist do to do better next time? Just saying things like 'it's boring' or 'I don't like it' shows stupidity and a complete lack or respect for your fellow artists. The artistic community has enough trouble getting support from the outside, so it is crucial that we, as artists, show support for one and other, even in a competitive setting. I'm not saying you have to be super nice, but if you're going to be harsh, at least be helpful, otherwise, shut up. (For the record giving useless, harsh feedback is NOT better than giving none at all)

Oh, and for the record, Trong is actually an established and respected conceptual artist, who many people have heard of. Miles (as a young artist that nobody has heard of) could have learned a few things from him about establishing yourself in the art world (because it aint easy), but he's an idiot. Trong is too good for this type of show: the type of show that would probably eliminate the likes of Michelangelo and Picasso if they competed (if such a thing were possible). The criteria seems to be based on whatever China Chow, in her infinite wisdom, can comprehend in her pretty little head, which makes the creative spectrum limited at best. The sad thing is, is that this show is representing art and artists in such an unrealistic, circus-like, abhorrent fashion that the show itself ceases to be about art and the creative process.

Finally, what Miles did was not quite as inspired or creative as people think. This is what happens when young artists only reference other contemporary artists. It's been done and it's been done a lot. Creating a living space or doing "performance art" in a gallery setting is not unusual, and sleeping certainly isn't risky, or 'out-there'. Heck, Vito Acconci, built a space and masturbated in a gallery and had people listen to it. If Miles had executed it in a creative way, then perhaps I could see it being in the top, but he didn't. And did he even use anything from the junk shop? For the record, there's 'honest' and then there's mean. I'm not sure if back-stabber is the correct term, but pretentious, ignorant, jerk seems to cover this guy just fine.

Okay. First off, the comment you made in the first paragraph of this article is not necessary. Everyone knows that with art comes "sleaze and .....". That's what art, in it's core, is. Sleaziness influences art. Politics influences art to the nth degree and artists are known for big egos.

Secondly, I do think that they should involve a little art history. It will provide the viewers at home with background info on art forms that go unnoticed everyday. It's better than having the viewers judge art without being cultured and educated on it, slightly.

And of course they're focusing on Miles. He's the younger, attractive guy that's going to draw in those younger viewers that BRAVO finds so vital.

There are also noticeable holes in every reality show nowadays. It was quite evident that many of the artists just seemed to not be there. But of course, the cameras go toward the more interesting/attractive people. And I did find it amazing that he didn't really use any of the materials he found. But still, out of all of the contestants, his was the most cohesive, inventive, and the hint of performance art was inspirational -- even though it seemed sort of forced and coming from a non-genuine place, instead of a true artistic viewpoint.

Trong was eliminated before his time, I feel. But his piece this week was increasingly boring, generic, and shallow. In fact, many of the contestants' works that featured televisions seemed generic and like something I've seen before (except for the tomb girl. but that has been done to a less degree too).

The show does focus on Miles more than the others. And I think he uses his case of OCD a tad much, like Owl City uses his insomnia as a meaning for his music. But then again, artists for centuries have used their incurable cruxes for inspiration in their work and I feel that Miles is doing the same.

And Miles deserves his winnings. Out of all the group, regardless of age or experience, he seems like the one that is most ready to be in the art world. He has the commitment to his art and the mainstream leanings that have made such artists like Warhol and others. Even though people say art shouldn't be commercial (which i agree with), unfortunately, society has made it bend to it's will.

And his commentary on Trong's artwork was not rude or brash. It was a bit harsh, but that's what we art people call a critique. It's when we break down each other's work based on composition, meaning, the feeling it gives off, and it's over all completion. Of course, art affects everyone in different ways. Critiques are ways for an artist to get feedback from other artists.

'Work of Art' is a classic case of a rough, nube diamond. In mnay cases the show gets polished later on in the season of in the next seasons. I feel 'Work of Art' will work it's way into the hearts of viewers. It won't be a Project Runway, for sure, but I feel it will surpass Shear Genius.

- Taylor Alexander
(artist/writer/& pop culture commentator)

I don't think Miles did anything wrong even if he had didn't have OCD. If he's fresh out of art school I bet he's used to open critiques were teachers solicit honest opinions. The problem with the art world is it's full of people who want artists to be polite and controllable so passive powerful people can push them around. Politeness is overrated, I love it when people have balls on TV, it's makes for good TV.
I'd love to be able to go to a gallery interview and relax and not feel like I'm being tested to see if I have any ego and am malleable to the will of others, it's truly demeaning and all the gallery practice it. I find Roses option above to be far more unyielding that any behavior on the show. As far as the originality on the pieces by all the artists, nobody is great in every level. I think Trong's passive disconnect with everyone did him in, this is TV and Art, they want personalities to come out.

In art school, a critique is a chance to get comments from both instructors (in this case, judges) and your peers (in this case, feelow competitors). That's what Miles is used to, and Trong should be used to it too. I'm glad he spoke up and changed the dynamics of the whole Project Runway-to-a-t vibe the show was giving off.

Also, people, don't think that what we saw is exactly how it happened. This is reality TV. A lot of editing goes on to overplay the "drama" we see.

Lastly, don't call him "emo." You don't know what the term means, so just don't use it.

Yes, Nancy, someone with OCD could be on a reality show. LOTS of professional people have OCD. I personally know 2 professional basketball coaches who are extremely successful and have severe OCD.

Who is to say that Miles comment to Trong was not an act of OCD? If you don't have it, how can you judge him?

His talent is raw and incredible. Leave the poor boy alone. OCD is a horrible thing to live with. I applaud him for being up front and honest about it.

I agree with what Nancy Carmel and a couple of other people have mentioned regarding Miles' failure to adhere to the rules of the challenge (to use found objects from the electronics graveyard). What found objects or appliances did he incorporate? The judges criticized others for not meeting the challenge, but Miles seemed to have deviated the most and it was ignored.

Being a bit of an artist myself and being interested in the creative process, I was initially looking forward to this series. However, it's turning out to be just another cookie-cutter reality show, complete with manipulative editing and lousy music. I would much rather see a cinema verite documentary style show which focused more on the creativity and less on competition and personality. (That being said, I'll probably still watch and take it with a grain of salt).

Work of art is literally the worst show ever. Thanks alot bravo.

So you like watching TV were nobody has a personality? How do we show their creativity without showing their character? I don't think an all process show would go over to anyone but insiders, to dry. However, I'd like to see less of the exact same formula for the competition of that fashion designer show this replicates, but make no mistake, the art world is one big competition, with artist back stabbing and nepotism galore. Wake up. They just could show it in a more real world way like the struggle to break into a good gallery.

I haven't seen this episode yet so I can't comment on any of the things that actually happened. But in regards to whether an artist follows the parameters of an assignment...
I learned this 18 years ago as a naive freshman in one of the best art schools in the U.S. : Rules in Art are made to be broken.
If the finished artwork is good, it doesn't matter whether the artist followed the rules to a T. As a student, I would try to fit the requirements of an assignment into my work and come up with so-so art. While someone else would veer off from the original parameters and come up with something great. That person would reap all kinds of praise and I would wonder, how is that fair if they didn't even really follow the assignment?

Rules can be stifling. They are a jumping off point.

Like I first said, I haven't seen the 2nd episode to really comment on Miles' work of art. But if someone can create a piece that elicits a strong positive response yet isn't 100% following all the rules of an assignment...it can still be valid and more successful than someone who followed all the rules and made something boring.

Firts off, just because Miles has OCD that does not mean that his condition makes it impossible to participate on a tv show. If you watched the show he clearly explains he suffers from a mild case, as do I. The fact that this reporter called him a backstabber in immature and unaccurate. If they watched the show closely and reviewed the diolouge, Miles raised his and and was called on by China Chow and he did say his piece was boring however, he finished by stating that the concepts are there but were not exicuted properly. How can someone who says a comment to your face be called a backsatbber? In response to Rose's comment, no one on the show stated that sleeping on your piece was unseen before, however, the challenge was to reflect yourself and what better way than to put yourslef in the piece?

Responding to A's comment: I would agree that good art often breaks rules; however, the judges criticized certain people for not following the rules while allowing Miles carte blanche to ignore the parameters of the challenge. Seems like weird favoritism (coupled with the fact that he's w0n the first two challenges now).

I understand that the "art world" is full of back-stabbing, opportunistic, shallow, cynical people, just like any environment where large sums of money are at stake. However, I am more interested in and art and artists and the creative end of things than the commercial/gallery sphere of art.

1 2 | »


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Explore the arts: See our interactive venue graphics


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.