“Wakey wakey!” “Good morning! Good morning!” Bravo could do a good side business selling Simon de Pury alarm clocks. What better way to start your day than with a burst of refined Continental cheer? Of course, such a project might be beneath the well-heeled de Pury. Then again, he once participated in this:
The artists are brought to an empty courtyard in New York, where they are joined by Simon and by China Chow in the top half of a banana costume. “I’m sure you weren’t expecting to see this when you woke up this morning!” China says. She’s referring to the troupe of black-shirted acrobats who are ricocheting off the walls and stairways behind her.
The athletes are members of New York Parkour, and the challenge is to create works about motion. It’s a group challenge, so China splits the artists into two teams. They’re divided on the basis on where they’re standing at that moment because what the hell, it is cold outside, and this outfit is not as well insulated as the person at Halloween Adventures said it would be, so let’s get this over with.
“Good luck, and if anyone tries any parkour, don’t hurt yourselves!” says China Chow Good-Natured Jocularity Subroutine 5-A, leaving the teams to develop their collaborative visions.
Team 1 tosses some ideas around for the theme that will unite their group’s exhibition. Michelle says, “I would love to do a pooping piece.” The other members of her team, The Sucklord foremost among them, are dubious that this has anything to do with motion. So Michelle elaborates: “I like the actual poop.” Everyone is now convinced, and team secretary Kymia happily scribbles assignments in her notebook, mumbling, “OK, Michelle, you’re poop.” Holy moly, you guys, art is happening before our very eyes! Television is magic.
Team 2 is set to produce a show that’s full of shit, too, as they talk about “migration” and “social decay” and whatnot. It’s like they’re playing The $25,000 Pyramid and the category is “Freshman Seminars at Brown.”
Jazz Minh doesn’t care for game shows, so she splits off from the group to set up a photo of herself and a parkour guy doing backflips. This photo, taken 10 minutes after the challenge begins, will end up surviving every permutation and reconceptualization of Team 2’s show, which says something about how important it is to be a team player on Work Of Art. (Not very.)
Everyone wanders around New York to find any extra inspiration that local citizens might have left on the side of the road. The Sucklord remains troubled. “We still can’t get too far away from the original idea of motion,” he says. When the only voice of reason on your art squadron is a man named The Sucklord, it might be time to reevaluate.
Kathryn starts working on some fake internal organs that look just like the thing she made for the first week’s challenge, and everything she has made before that. “I was thinking how I would make this kind of intestinal kind of stomach weird organ pouch-like thing,” she explains. You don’t say! It’s also revealed that she has Crohn’s Disease, an affliction that severely impacts the brain’s ability to come up with a new idea already for Pete’s sake.
After the artists have been working for a short while, Simon pops in. “I want you to realize there’s going to be only one winning team,” he says, “and the winner will be part of that team. So you’d better be on the WWWWWWINNING team!” His exuberance level is at full steam.
That doesn’t last. Simon’s zest for life vanishes as he plunges into the confusion and horror of the artists’ cockamamie concepts. After listening to Team 1 talk about digestion and feces for a while, he sums up their venture with this tight-lipped declaration: “So poop was a key word.”
They blather on a little more, and finally he’s had enough. “Well, you’ve got a lot to figure out. Good luck,” he says, which is Simon-speak for “You are going to lose.” He retreats to what will surely be the relative sanity of Team 2. Thank God for Team 2! he must think.
Except no. Young Sun says that he is working on a piece about Korean migration and that “Lola is talking about phases of the moon.” Simon hates this team even more than the poop team, which he didn’t imagine was possible. “Maybe we were at a different place this morning,” he says. He can’t grasp how the artists got epochal Asian population dynamics from a bunch of zippy dudes bouncing off walls.
Simon cuts the critique short and asks both teams to reconvene around him so that they might sense his pulsing halo of rage. “I’m really very, very concerned, because I haven’t even finished with the second group, and I just don’t get it. … One group is speaking to me about digestion, about pooping…” and from here he free-associates with sputtering anger for a bit.
On a roll, Simon vents some specific disgust in Kathryn’s direction. Her work is “on its way to becoming the exact twin of what she made for the first challenge,” he says. Kathryn gets snippy at this. “Well, you’re looking at this [the plastic-sheet-and-red-goop craptacular], not the photograph,” she sneers. Maybe if Simon had let her finish, Kathryn would have been able to point out that yes, she once again plans to take a picture of fake internal organs on a clear tarp, but she was going to use a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT f-stop on the camera this time.
Before he departs to sob quietly in the back of a limousine, Simon says, “Use all the time you have left to the fullest.” Awesomely, he slips back into full-on cheerleader mode to conclude, “Good luck, and I’m sure you’re going to all be brilliant!” It is the most sarcastic thing ever said.
The teams scramble to recover. Team 1 settles on a new unifying concept of a playground. Team 2 is more inclined to hold onto what they’ve already got and somehow make it, you know, relevant-er. Leon offers his idea: “It’s about balls.” This is developed, so to speak, into the notion of an exhibition about circles and loops. Round things.
Despite the course correction, “I’m pretty much sticking with what I was going to do,” Kathryn says, which is the implicit rallying cry of her entire team.
Fellow Team 2 laggard Lola drizzles hot glue over heaps of shredded paper. She muses, “I don’t even know what it means. Usually, I come up with something.” Thanks for that succinct and incredibly depressing condemnation of the entire idea of fine art, Lola! Best of luck in the competition.
Self-appointed Team 2 leader Young is making a silver flag of Japan, which he says “operates on a very physical level of motion” but is “also very subtly talking about the Japan tsunami and earthquake and all that chaos.” Given that it’s a sheet of foil with a barely visible red circle sewn into it, the message might be even more subtle than he thinks.
There’s a lot of self-portraiture this week. There’s Jazz Minh’s backflip photo, of course (although her face is obscured in the shot that she chooses). Then Bayeté shoots a video of himself spinning in place on the roof of the studio building. And Dusty mounts a cardboard cutout of himself on a seesaw.
As studio time runs out, Tewz talks about how impressed he his with Team 2, “and how we had circles in all our pieces.” He then accuses the other team of being “too literal.” Meanwhile, a less optimistic Young realizes that everything on Team 2 sort of sucks.
At the gallery opening, season-one cast member Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn makes a token guest-judge appearance, having been dismissed from the regular cast. I was hoping she was only absent for the first week of the season, but nope, this is all we’ll get. She’ll be taking her loopy, ultra-confident, intermittently sane critiquing skills elsewhere this year, thank you very much. Shine on, Jeanne, you crazy high-society unicorn. Shine on.
Tewz gets worried when the judges arrive to take a look at his piece, which is comprised of a spinning toy hand that fails to spin and a hose wrapped around a bucket. “I hope they can see it’s about movement,” Tewz says. Since it doesn’t move, this seems like a long shot.
On the other (also non-spinning) hand, he nails the Team 2 theme. Tewz’s work may not signify anything at all, but does it ever have circles! If you want circumferences inscribed equidistant from single points of focus, then brother, you have come to the right piece of art.
Team 1’s playground show wins. The judges select Michelle and Bayeté to be showered with special admiration. Michelle’s work is a wooden, geometric stick-figure contraption that’s wired up in front of a picture of a little New York park. The lines of the figure echo the lines of the plants in the bucolic park scene, which creates some clever thematic tension, as the stick-figure guy is a lecher who gets an erection when someone pulls his string.
At least, we can gather that he gets an erection. Judging by the clumsy, panicked cuts that take place every time someone pulls the string on Michelle’s piece, Bravo’s standards-and-practices department does not allow the depiction of boners in motion, not even artistic ones. (Note that Sara’s moving clay vulva is A-OK, though, because it is still stationary relative to the crotch of the figure, and therefore not capable of breaking loose and destroying civilized society.)
During the critique of this work, China takes pains to remind everyone how comfortable she is in the company of an erect penis.
Bayeté’s piece is, as promised, video footage of himself spinning around. Actually, it’s two videos of himself, side by side. It may be that this piece is more striking in person, projected on a big wall. But to me, it feels like a million poorly exposed, fast-motion, shallow-depth-of-field videos that have been uploaded to Vimeo by bored Brooklynites with expensive cameras. This is the millionth and one, and not any better than most of those that have come before. Yet the judges are “really impressed with the simplicity and execution,” according to Bill, so Bayeté gets the win.
Team Lose marches in for their scolding. Jazz Minh starts talking about lunar phases and water again. Like Simon did earlier, the judges react with a collective “What the…?” But hold on, Jazz Minh says, the glorious tale of Team 2 continues. See, they narrowed their concept down to circles. “So your show has something to do with circles,” Jerry grumbles. “Absolutely!” Jazz Minh replies. She finds it so wonderful to be understood!
“That’s like saying, ‘We’re just going to have the theme be “paint,”’” Bill says, in his best line of the night.
Stern-Face China tells the artists that three of them have been especially “unsuccessful”: Lola, Tewz, and Kathryn. Lola and Tewz’s critiques are straightforward: Their pieces don’t have much of anything to say, so neither do the judges.
Kathryn’s looping video of pretend guts is not exactly a brilliant voice crying out in the desert, either, but Jerry has some words for her. After Kathryn defends the repetitive nature of her work on the show as “experimentation” with an idea, Jerry replies, “What you describe as experimentation could also be seen as a limitation of means, vision, thought—and that concerns me.” It’s harsh, but it’s also fair. More to the point, it’s an insight that Kathryn needs, and Jerry offers it with eloquence and clarity.
Kathryn reacts by blazing through “tearing up” and “crying” in a split second, arriving at her destination—“inconsolable bawling”—in record time. Jeanne and Jerry avert their gaze, as if they’ve suddenly seen a dead skunk splattered across the pavement. China, unaware that the venting of ocular fluids indicates an abnormal emotional state, simply says, “Thank you, Kathryn!”
“I’m gonna go to the roof, and I’m gonna chant and get my head on straight,” Kathryn says in the artists’ lounge. So she does, and yup, it is weird. Then she heads back downstairs to get kicked off the show. She promises to push herself, and Jerry seems pleased at a successful teaching moment. Just like that, she’s gone. Kathryn may have been odd, and she may have only had one idea, but you gotta give her this: The kid had guts.
- The studio looks like a craphole already. Man, artists are slobs.
- “It’s so semen-like! I love it!”
- I try to give the artists the benefit of the doubt when they talk about the ideas that drive their work. And I’m also willing to tolerate a fair amount of B.S. But Young’s dubious effort to cast the Japanese tsunami as an emotional underpinning of his piece rubbed me the wrong way. The connection was so tenuous and so desperate that it came off as exploitive.
- “It’s a ride, but it’s a ride that you take with your eye.”