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'Work of Art' recap: second-season premiere

October 13, 2011 |  8:45 am


"Work of Art," the art-themed reality competition series on Bravo, kicked off its sophomore season Wednesday night. The setup was pretty much identical to last season's -- 14 artists face weekly elimination based on challenges that require them to create works of art in a highly compressed time frame.

The season's first episode was a mostly straightforward and straight-faced affair. One of the few sources of humor came from hearing the cast occasionally spout pompous art-world jargon, like "cultural hybridity" and "the prison of meaning." (The latter came from New York magazine critic Jerry Saltz, who has returned as a judge.)

Among the more memorable contestants are: Michael Chlebowski, a Chicago street artist who goes by the name "Tewz"; Dusty Mitchell, an art teacher at a public elementary school in Arkansas; Leon Lim, a Malaysian artist who was born deaf and requires a translator; and the artist known as "Sucklord" from New York.

There are two L.A. contestants in the cast -- Lola Thompson, who creates assemblages and paintings; and Ugo Nonis, a French-born artist who specializes in line drawings.

The first challenge of the season was to take a piece of kitschy art and turn it into something gallery-worthy. Joining Saltz at the judges' table were gallerist Bill Powers, host China Chow and renowned photographer Mary Ellen Mark.

The contestants tackled a whole range of kitsch art, including a painting of animals playing cards, Asian wall decoration and a portrait of Gandalf from "The Lord of the Rings" novels.

"I haven't been this nervous since I got tested for STDs," said contestant Michelle Matson on the prospect of being judged for her art. As with last season, Simon de Pury served as a mentor and den mother to the group of hopefuls.

(Spoiler alert: stop reading now if you don't want to know who won and who was eliminated in the first episode.)

The judges picked Matson as the first-round winner for her work in deconstructing an ersatz eagle totem pole into something more personal and abstract. The loser for the round was Nonis, who was faulted, among other things, for too closely imitating artist Keith Haring in his line drawing. Nonis has the dishonor of being the first contestant to be kicked off the show this season.


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-- David Ng

Photo: A scene from Season Two of "Work of Art." Credit: Bravo