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Shock art doesn't shock on Bravo's 'Work of Art' reality series

July 1, 2010 | 10:26 am

Serrano  

In its latest episode, Bravo's "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist" challenged its contestants to create a shocking work of art. The producers invited artist Andres Serrano -- of "Piss Christ" infamy -- to serve as a guest judge.

Serrano's "Piss Christ," in which he placed a crucifix in a bath of urine, caused a scandal in 1987 and was an early battle of the culture wars. His appearance on Wednesday's episode suggests a new art-world axiom at work: Sooner or later, everything that was once cutting-edge becomes reality-TV fodder.

The contestants had less than a day to create their "shocking" works of art. Perhaps due to the time pressure, many of them defaulted to sexual content involving genitalia and nudity. 

The results weren't so much shocking as predictably shocking. At the same time, the awkward frisson created by the challenge made this the most entertaining installment yet of the series.

Miles, who has won two previous rounds, created a large illustration of Mickey Mouse involving penis-like embellishments. Last week's winner, John, attempted a painting of a man performing fellatio on himself, while Jaclyn created a series of low-res nude photos of herself. Ryan made a portrait of himself as a transsexual prostitute. Both Erik and Mark created works addressing child sexual abuse.

Taking a different approach, Abdi chose to create a series of molds depicting young black youths as bombs ready to go off. Nao appeared to have the most trouble with her performance-art piece in which she dressed up as a pseudo-drifter with a scatological obsession.

Because of the nature of the challenge, the episode featured a lot of bleeped words and blurred images. Creating shocking art isn't easy but the real shock came half-way through when De Pury revealed that two contestants would be eliminated in this round.

In the end, the verdicts (spoiler alert!) were harsh but fair.

Abdi  The judges eliminated Nao for her performance-art piece and John for his depiction of a self-pleasuring man. They faulted Nao's work for its incoherent nature and the artist's inability to satisfactorily explain it. (Serrano appeared to be the lone defender of the bizarre performance piece.) They criticized John's work for its cartoon-like execution and for the fact that he misspelled "fellatio" as "follatio."

For John, the elimination was doubly painful since he was last week's winner. He later said that he was trying to please Serrano with his work rather than himself.

Taking home the prize for the first time was Abdi, whose bomb-like molds were praised for their understated nature and social commentary. The runner-up was Jaclyn for her nude self-portraits that she invited gallery visitors to deface with magic markers.

Jaclyn's strong showing was called into question when Erik accused her of stealing his idea of letting people write over her creation. The artist defended herself, saying that she had come up with the idea before Erik suggested it. The judges didn't seem swayed either way by the accusations.

Since both artists have advanced to the next round, viewers can look forward to more drama and hostility in the episodes to come.

-- David Ng

Photo (top): Andres Serrano with fellow judge Jerry Saltz. Credit: Bravo

Photo (bottom): Abdi, with his creation. Credit: Bravo

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