Bravo’s 'Work of Art' is a Bust

Sarah Jessica Parker's show on Bravo, Work of Art, is a joke. Albeit an inside-the-art-world kind of joke, as artist Ross Bleckner explains.


Watching Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, the Bravo television show produced by Sarah Jessica Parker, brought back many memories.

Unfortunately, they were all memories of my junior and senior year in high school.

There it was: the class, the classroom and the teacher-judges.

All a little bit scary and Warholian. You can take that as code for: View this show armed with a generous dose of irony because it is kind of a joke—albeit an inside-the-art-world kind of joke.

Work of Art completely mimics that other reality show, Project Runway. But I am sorry to say that making a dress is not the same as making a piece of art.

Work of Art completely mimics that other reality show, Project Runway. But I am sorry to say that making a dress is not the same as making a piece of art.

The judges, all art-world pros, know full well that, contrary to the fashion world, the word "great" is not thrown around with abandon in the art world, except when certain (usually male) artists refer to themselves.

The show doesn't make you want to be an artist because "making it," according to this formula, requires competitiveness and pandering to a small cabal of teacher-judges, the so-called experts, who bark "time's up!"

And the irony, or the joke if you will, is that the teacher-judges know that art, let alone "great art," will never be the result of a series of televised assignments; work produced in a classroom of sorts. I wish the show was called "artists get in a room and try to get a show at a museum that no one will care about or ever go see, but one of them wins $100,000 and some Prismacolor pencils." Not exactly the "opportunity of a life time" as Bravo has it, but closer to reality for these unsuspecting hopefuls.

In terms of these participants: The feistiest, Nao, also embodies the virtues of a real artist. She wants her independence but when she stands up to the criticism that is leveled at her work, she is described by the teacher-judges as "defensive." Really? Is this a show about making art or is it some form of group therapy? Nao tries but at the same time is afraid that she comes off as rude. Well, my advice to Nao is this: Don't be rude—be very rude!

As brilliant an auctioneer and entertainer as Simon de Pury can be, he needs to reconsider his snappy comment that "in a split second I can tell whether a work of art is great or not." All I have to say to him is: Louise Bourgeois.

The artist, who died last week, was the antithesis of the sound bite, and didn't "make it" until she was well into her 60s because no one saw the importance of her work until the next generation of (women) artists began to cite it as an important influence. De Pury should remember that some things happen slowly, and not all artists—or their work—can be recognized as "great" or "genius" in a split second. Art is about slowing down time, and thinking—neither of which television does very well.

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The critic Jerry Saltz makes the only intelligent comment of the show when he says, "Art is a way of showing to the outside what's on the inside." And the camera seems to like him. His body language and facial expressions best expressed the feelings I had while watching the show: a mixture of pain and curiosity, a sort of "I want it/I don't want it/I am here/get me the hell out of here/I'll go through with this/I can't believe I am doing this/oh well—they asked me/I'll have a good laugh because it's all in good fun," a panoply of feelings and thoughts that ended somewhere around here: "I'll take the 15 minutes because tomorrow it will be off the air."

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Ross Bleckner is a well-known artist whose works have been shown in several institutions throughout the world, including MoMA, MoCA, Astrup Fearnley, Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He is also recognized as the youngest artist ever to have a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. His upcoming exhibitions include shows in Modena, Italy, Salzburg, and Brussels. He is also currently a professor in Graduate Studies at NYU.