My heart sank at the beginning of this week’s episode, as Simon du Pury lead the remaining artists into a Park Avenue car dealership called “the Audi Forum.” (Excuse me: forum?) My cheese-ball meter spiked: I dreaded that he’d tell the crew that their next challenge was to paint an Audi. Artists like Warhol and Lichtenstein have painted cars, but it always comes off hokey. Then, as with many things about this curious show, just as I thought it would zig, it zagged.
This week’s challenge? Make art “based on your Audi experience.” This was so opened-ended that it seemed to allow the artists to do whatever they wanted and not be constricted by conceptual parameters. (The artists are forbidden to use video or the Internet — something about copyrights, I think.) Miles immediately curled up on a couch and went to sleep. Perhaps this was his way of showing that sometimes not thinking about a problem is a good way of solving it. Or maybe just saying, “Who cares?” Erik — who’s actually very sweet, but has recently been cast as the bad guy — was heard grumbling that Miles is only playing “the tortured artist. He’s completely manipulative, an actor.” I couldn’t help but notice that this alpha-male comment came right after Erik spotted a flirtation between Nicole (who ended up making a really interesting bridge thing) and Miles. The ever-articulate Ryan looked over and said Miles and Nicole “look like a match made in Urban Outfitter’s heaven.” Miles: “If Nicole ever made a move on me the universe might implode.” I am not sure what this means, but I can tell you that a number of the men and women behind the scenes think Miles is a total dreamboat. With no nookie or flirting on our side of the camera, my inner alpha male keeps saying, Maybe he’s asexual and His eyes are puffy. (Wondering if the show had morphed into art school, I tried to find out if there was hanky-panky between the artists. From what I was able to glean, there was no hooking up.)
Back in the studio, Erik was heard yelling at Jaclyn because she didn’t give him credit for an idea he gave her last week. I got tons of angry e-mails saying that Erik should have been given credit for that idea. I disagree. I don’t care where an artist gets an idea; I only care about what they do with it. All ideas come from somewhere. Speaking of which, Abdi made yet another annoying pop superhero image. Ryan, meanwhile, sighed that he gets “more inspiration from seeing a homeless man vomit on himself than from nice luxury cars,” and admitted that he was “stuck in a rut.” This was so vulnerable I wanted to give him immunity right there. Unfortunately, his realist self-portrait as a cool driving dude made that unlikely. Mark’s grid painting was supposed to reflect “the light and vitality of the city” but only amounted to generic geometric hotel art. Erik’s brownish image of his girlfriend was touching, but otherwise meh. I can’t even remember what Peregrine did, which may or may not be a good sign.
The two artists who made the finals both deserved it. Miles made an elegant installation consisting of an almost abstract black-and-white screen print of an empty doorway with two little wooden sculptural signs on either side of it. This showed him thinking between two and three dimensions, considering the placement and scale of objects, and trying to create a rhythm of the city. The other winner was Jaclyn, who has been widely ridiculed as a bodacious dimwit. Here she braved further branding as a bimbo by taking pictures of men staring her down at the Audi Forum, and then blotting out their faces with white paint. As guest judge Richard Phillips rightly said, Jaclyn “simultaneously negated and revealed the warping power of the male gaze.” I imagine she’ll still be widely attacked.
As I watched the show this week, something unexpected kept happening. Even though I knew who won and lost, I was continually pulled in or surprised. Referring to the Audis in the showroom, Simon had said that we were “in the presence of a sophisticated vehicle.” That same though might apply to this format of reality TV. “Sophisticated” isn’t exactly the right word for it, but as annoying as Work of Art often is, it’s structured so that questions get raised, aesthetic judgments appear more open, and people actually get involved with a process as strange as making art. Or I’ve just been bamboozled by good old-fashioned American showbiz.