Judges: Bravo's new 'Work of Art' meant for mainstream art audience
By Christopher Rocchio, 06/07/2010
Work of Art: The Next Great Artist host and judge China Chow feels that the new Bravo reality competition series isn't necessarily meant to appeal to art enthusiasts like herself.
"This show is not necessarily made for them," Chow told reporters during a Wednesday conference call.
"We're trying to reach a mainstream audience with this and hopefully it's something that, as the episodes air and they get to see what we've done, hopefully they will put their stamp of approval on it. But ultimately, I feel like it's a gift more to mainstream America to be able to witness art -- artists making their work and having a dialogue about it."
New York Gallery owner and literary art contributor Bill Powers, who also serves on the show's judging panel, agreed.
"They don't do Project Runway for Diane von Furstenberg to have something to watch at night," he told reporters. "And you know, Top Chef -- it's not for Mario Batali to DVR."
In addition, Powers said guest judge Richard Phillips, a realistic painter, "had a great point" about the use of reality television as a medium to make art more mainstream.
"He said that, 'You know, reality television is here to stay whether you like it or not. And so rather than just condemn the whole genre why not try and find a new level, a new way to maybe elevate or differentiate the genre,'" explained Powers.
"So I think this is a real honest attempt to do that."
Work of Art: The Next Great Artist will premiere on Wednesday, June 9 at 11PM ET/PT and follow the 14 aspiring artists as they compete in art-themed challenges from a range of disciplines -- including sculpture, painting, photography and industrial design.
World-renowned art auctioneer Simon de Pury, who will serve as a mentor and judges and also had a hand in the casting process, told reporters that the nature of the competition reflects contemporary artists.
"I think that today many artists, contemporary artists that are successful or active, are able to do work in very different genres, whether it's different techniques; going from sculpture to painting to using photography or video or installation art," he explained.
"The various challenges demand a certain adaptability and flexibility by the artists that do participate in the show. But I think that is a total reflection of the art world at large, where there are unlimited types of techniques or media that an artist can use to do his work."
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At first, de Pury said, viewers will clearly be able to tell the discipline each contestant feels comfortable in, however that changes over the course of the season.
"You see how they adapt to each different challenge which requires making a very different type of work," he said. "I think you will see that most contestants adapted fairly well to that versatility."
Not only will viewers see how the contestants handle the challenges thrown at them, de Pury said they will also learn how art is created in general.
"I found one of the most fascinating aspects of the program is that you really see the process of creating an artwork. There is a lot of focus in the program on what it takes to create very different types of artworks," he explained.
"You see from the moment the artist buys the material that he needs for what he has in mind to do, up to the moment the work is finished and presented in the exhibition at the end of show. So that is truly fascinating. You normally never can witness the process itself unless you are a very close friend of an artist."
Since de Pury had a hand in casting, he knew what the show was looking for in terms of talent -- and he said a hopeful's personality was never part of the process.
"What impressed me very much with this show is that at the time of the casting, the whole focus was on the art that the artist came to present. At no stage when the initial casting took place did the production company say, 'Oh you should take this one, or rather this one because his or her personality would be great in the show,'" he explained.
"Yet, while the whole choice was on the art, as you will see, the personalities of the 14 contestants are fantastic. And you have a wonderful mix of very appealing personalities that come across very well in the program."
Work of Art's winner will receive a $100,000 cash prize and a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum -- which Chow described as a "huge endorsement." While she added she "can't say who wins," Chow did say that she's personally approved of the winner.
"I personally am very, very happy with the results of this whole thing," she told reporters. "I think the person that won is extremely talented."
In addition to the grand prize, de Pury said the winner will also get something valuable -- exposure.
"What is so great about the art world today is that in the old days when you wanted to make it in the art world, you needed to know the right galleries and the right dealers and to get a chance to get exposure. Nowadays there are so many different ways for a young artist to get exposure," he explained.
"You have the street art phenomenon with artists that first get known on the street for the work they do on the street. And then of course, thanks to the Internet, thanks to the new technologies, any artist anywhere in the world can present his work on specialized Web sites. And then of course, you still have the traditional way of going through galleries and institutions, and now also, reality TV show."
He added that reality television "is a great way for an artist" to gain exposure, and Chow agreed.
"I think in this day and age, we're in a different world than we were 10 years ago and I think this is actually a valid way of finding talent these days," she explained.
Chow, Powers and de Pury all said they had to justify their involvement on Work of Art to peers.
"I feel very strongly that it's a fantastic thing to have a show like this one, especially if it's as expertly done as Magical Elves and Pretty Matches have done for Bravo -- which is an art form in itself. Because so often you feel that art is just viewed as being elitist or just reserved for a happy few, wealthy people," explained de Pury.
"Art has a mass appeal, has a very wide appeal. Therefore when I heard about this show being done I thought, 'This is a wonderful way to learn, in a playful, entertaining way of what it is to be an artist.'"
Chow said she got involved when she approached Bravo executive Andy Cohen about her own idea for a show.
"As soon as he heard me talk about art he said, 'What do you know about art? Why are you interested in art? This is perfect that you're here. We're doing this art show, would you be interested in hosting it?' And that's how the dialogue began," she told reporters.
"I have to say, if I'm going to be honest, I was hesitant at the beginning."
Chow added she needed to know who was involved and was quickly told that, in addition to Powers, de Pury, Phillips, she also learned New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz, Salon94 gallery owner and curator Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, mix-media artist Jon Kessler and photographer Andres Serrano were all participating in some way.
"I just thought I would much rather be a part of this dialogue and part of this process than not," she said. "So there you have it."
Because he has a duel role as judge and mentor, de Pury said he was in an interesting position with the contestants.
"I really took an equal interest in the 14 contestants that participated in the program. And basically with the elimination of every single artist that was eliminated, I was each time very upset and sad that one of them was eliminated," he said.
In addition, de Pury added he didn't always agree with the elimination decision -- which wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
"In some cases I would not agree with what their conclusion had been. And that's precisely what is interesting -- because judging art is a subjective thing," he explained.
"You can see in the program what are some of the criteria you can use to judge art and to justify why one work of art is better than another. But at the same time it remains something highly subjective."
In addition to Magical Elves, Work of Art is alsobeing produced by Sarah Jessica Parker's Pretty Matches production company -- with the Sex and the City star serving as executive producer.
"I think she has a lot of creative capital, generally speaking," explained Powers about Parker.
"She's on the Obama Administration's Committee of the Arts and Humanities. I think she has a family member, I think an in-law who's a painter. So I think that she just has a curiosity about that, and definitely a connection to the current administration to kind of support and get behind visual art."