07/15/2010 12:40 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"WORK OF ART" RECAP: Jumping on the "Noumenon"

Every Thursday, ARTINFO reviews the carnage and glory of the previous night's episode of Bravo's art-world reality show Work of Art. (Be sure to visit ARTINFO each Friday for an interview with the participant(s) voted off the show.)


Credit: Bravo TV

The contestants on Bravo's Work of Art: The Next Great Artist were told to make public art for the sixth episode, "Open to the Public," which is funny given that the show is broadcast on national television each and every week, meaning that there's not much, ahem, private art being made, ever. (Although ARTINFO wishes that some of the pieces produced for the show might be put somewhere very, very private, as in 1,000 feet beneath the ocean's floor, or inside the pockets of Bill Powers's never-laundered plaid jacket.) Anyway, this week mostly saw belligerent breakdowns on the part of the artists, as well as the slow disappearance of the judges from the storyline as the show morphed into something resembling a twenty-somethings-strike-out-on-their-own-and-can't-handle-it dramedy: "Reality Art Show Bites"? Oh, and the gang is still being driven around in Audis.

The episode begins with Miles gargling and staring at his sad, puffy countenance in the mirror; Jaclyn Santos smelling dirty laundry and gagging a little; and Peregrine Honig gazing forlornly into the distance, while wrapped in a duvet. Erik Johnson laments the fact that he has less waiting for him back at home than anyone else on the show -- even though all he talks about is his girlfriend and how much he loves her and wants to see her again and make blurry art about her -- and ARTINFO senses that this statement is an omen that he is going to get kicked off this episode. He does.

The destination of the day is a vacant lot in lower Manhattan, where the eloquent and charmingly deadpan Yvonne Force Villareal of Art Production Fund fame is presented as the guest judge. Nicole Nadeau sees the site on Canal and 6th Avenue and reverently murmurs, "it looks like a public art space." Um, yes, because it is a space, out in the public streets, and she's about to put art in it. The artists are split into two teams, red and blue -- an apparent yet incoherent indictment of America's failed two-party system -- and it comes as no surprise that Nicole and Miles are pitted against each other on opposing sides. Because that, dear readers, is how drama is made. Romance between the two most attractive characters is infused with tension when something prevents them from getting together? It's a modern-day Pyramus and Thisbe.

China Chow states (in a strangely non-diagetic, seemingly godlike voiceover), "we've stocked the studio with everything you could possibly need for this challenge." ARTINFO doesn't think this is possible. Do they have cubes of animal fat? Do they have bars of gold? Gallons of frozen blood? Millions of dollars worth of diamonds? Not that we could see. There was some wood, some paint, some power tools: basically the contents of a junior high school's arts-and-crafts room.

Now, it is time for us to present the teams:

BLUE TEAM (Miles, Erik, Jaclyn, Peregrine)
- Miles takes charge just like that kid in the sixth grade who would commandeer the scalpel for every dissection and not let anyone else cut off even one little frog leg. Peregrine points out that the group's plan is "a little bit Miles-y -- it's like this basic quiet space for somebody to sit and look at the city or read a book" (or nap, perhaps?). Miles kvetches that he "got assigned the project manager role" (ha!) but then comes to understand that he deserves it because he "can do a heck of a lot with wood" (ha! Ha!). When asked about the work, Miles jumps in with, "it might even be a continuation of my last piece." Huzzah for teamwork!

- Jaclyn is in charge of "snacks and stuff." Huzzah for everything that being Jeff Koons's former assistant can teach you about practical art construction techniques!

- Miles and Erik's relationship goes from cordial (early in the episode Erik merrily carries ol' puffy eyes on his shoulders) to bitterly, near-psychotically spiteful. Jaclyn is somehow the catalyst for this. It begins when, out of the blue, she blurts out about the project -- referred to by members of the other team as "a weird tree house constructed by a meth addict," and "an incredibly dangerous jungle gym" -- that she's "starting to hate this idea." Then, she starts repeatedly calling Erik stupid, although for the most part he seems to be behaving less stupid than usual. AND THEN...

- The note. Jaclyn passes Erik some incomprehensible note egging him on to confront Miles, which he does in a vitriolic tirade that goes like: "I respect the character you play. I think you're a tremendous actor. I love the tortured artist thing. I love the fuck corporate America with the Audi challenge where you're so tortured you have to go to sleep." Next he calls Miles a "stuck up art pussy" (!) and then goes and chain-smokes in a dark alley, in the rain. It is not raining on the street where the other artists are loading their works into trucks. Hmm. Erik later says, Jaclyn is not "smart enough to sabotage me and set me up that way," but ARTINFO thinks Jaclyn is entirely capable of such Machiavellian machinations. Remember when she made reference to Bentham's panopticon last week? PANOPTICON. Peregrine looks terrified throughout.

- The team's completed piece is given a title, Scale. Bill Powers likes the way it smells. But Jerry Saltz grumpily asserts: "I never smelled a thing."

- In the most cringe-worthy exchange of the show thus far, the panel asks the blue team why they chose to orient their structure -- an odd mix of an adventure-playground hodgepodge and a Tolstoyan troika -- toward the south. Jaclyn responds that they were drawn to "the most open sky in the skyline." Saltz, aghast, asks how they could not have realized that they pointed their sculpture at the vacancy in the skyline created by the absence of the twin towers. "Of all the sky in the country..." Saltz scolds. Everyone hides their faces in shame.

- Finally Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn sums up why their team cannot win, in her special, baffling way: "If you're a parent, you're not going to leave your child there alone," she claims. (ARTINFO, for the record, feels that one should not leave a child alone in any almost vacant Manhattan lot regardless of the aesthetic merits the few objects contained within it.) Finally Chow claims, "the only rule in art is what works, and your piece didn't." Stop trying to steal Tim Gunn's slogan and then messing it up!

RED TEAM (Mark, Abdi, Ryan, Nicole)
- Ryan Schultz doesn't care what his team's sculpture looks like "as long as it doesn't fall apart when Jerry Saltz jumps on it." This is the new yardstick with which to measure the success of an artwork. Saltz, start doing lunges: you've got some jumping to do.

- The red team's piece is dubbed The Noumenon. Absolutely nobody but Nicole understands what this means, even though she is certain that during its construction the team "all bound together like brothers -- I know I'm a girl, but we were like bros." Saltz and Rohatyn don't like the piece -- calling it "the kind of art that gives art a bad name" and "like all that bad 1960s and 1970s minimalist work," respectively -- but it wins anyway. Because Chow liked climbing on top of it. Is it just us, or do the judges' verdicts totally contradict their stated views about the artworks? They seem to have hated the red team's piece! (NB: at the end of each episode, the show states that "winning and elimination decisions were made by the Judges in consultation with producers. Some elimination decisions were discussed with Bravo.) Anyway, Nicole is named the group winner, which means nothing. She is very cute, and celebrates by jumping on a couch, cutely. A budding art critic?

A moment of consideration for Simon de Pury, of whom we were deprived in this week's weird interstitial mid-commercial segment, replaced by a scene of Ryan trying so, so hard to be funny. But do not fret, in this episode the dapper auctioneer declared, "I'm wearing my most beautiful suit," and then guffawed. Because, of course, all of his suits are his most beautiful suit, hand-woven by master clothiers in whatever European country his accent originated. Also, when de Pury announces at the conclusion of this episode that (surprise!) "one person will go," there is a crash of thunder. Make it rain, Simon.

-Emma Allen

And Work of Art contestant exit interviews:
Episode 1: Amanda Williams
Episode 2: Trong Nguyen
Episode 3: Judith Braun
Episode 4: Nao Bustamante and John Parot
Episode 5: Jaime Lynn Henderson

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