Thursday, July 15, 2010


Some thoughts, including spoilers, on last night's episode of Bravo's Work of Art-

Of all the challenges given so far, this one was the least interesting to me. I'm not a fan of most contemporary public art, which generally went abstract about half a century ago. Some of this was because non-representational art was big everywhere in the art world for a while, and some (my theory) is because most people may not love abstract lumps, but there's nothing specific about them to offend either. Put up a representational statue of an individual or archetype, and a portion of your audience will find a reason to be upset about what it is or isn't. Throw in the common practice of public art having to be approved by a committee, and you almost guarantee that nothing interesting (having an individual point of view) will be produced. Almost ten years later nothing has been built on the World Trade Center site and a lot of that is because the various parties can't agree on what to do.

The eight contestants were randomly assigned to two teams and given two days to design and construct a piece of public art for a sculpture park. This didn't leave much time to develop an idea, so on each team one artist took the lead. The other artists made some suggestions, but largely worked on aspects of construction at the direction of the leader. For the red team, this system worked. They created a nondescript polyhedron out of wood, and surrounded it with small cast pieces. Very forgettable. The blue team had a bit more trouble. Erik, the outsider artist (no formal art schooling) had previous issues with two of his project teammates- Jaclyn (for taking credit for an idea he suggested to her) and Miles (for producing the kind of projects that art insiders tend to like but average people can't relate to). Miles launched the original idea, and the other three made various suggestions, but all of Erik's were voted down 3 to 1. So he split his time between being a laborer for the team and pouting about the situation. Erik had some reason for concern- he had reasoned that the judges would want to know what his contribution to the project was, and lacking one, he'd be out the door. The blue team's sculpture was basically an elevated seat made from wood beams and curved plywood.

I wasn't crazy about either piece as art or design, and neither were particularly practical for a public park. (the blue team piece had many exposed sharp metal edges, and it would be only be a matter of time before someone was impaled on the upward pointing spiky projections that were part of the red team installation) The kid in me would have gravitated toward the chair piece and the opportunity to climb it. The judges went with the red team, and Erik was shown the door. A point he made on the way out was echoed by many online today- it seemed unfair that he was the one who was forced out for the failure of a project that he did not contribute to, while Miles and the others all got to stay. I couldn't help but feel that if Erik had ended up on the other team (where he had some friends), he might still be around next week.

Besides the problems of creating public art, the episode does point out the difficulties that can come with artistic collaborations. Compromise is necessary in such situations, but that can be difficult for strong willed artists who are used to making all of their own decisions. Having another artist involved does bring the benefit of a second brain to contribute ideas and solve problems, but it only works if they are willing to work together as equals or if one is willing to be subordinate to the other. Over the years I have occasionally collaborated with other artists, the most recent time being the postcard project. No traditional compromises in these cases (working together from the beginning to develop the idea), but rather it was each of us separately making a part of the final print. I took the card I received and added to the design in the way I wanted, making no use of the themes that were on her mind when she did her part. If viewers deem it a success, it's not as much because we both contributed, but more like in spite of it.


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