A Public Display: Work of Art, Episode 6

Work of Art: The Red Team (Nicole, Ryan, Abdi and Mark)

Creating meaningful art work on one’s own in a short period of time is hard enough, but working on a collaborative project with a team of artists who, as past episodes have revealed, do not share each other’s vision?

I was shocked when I learned about this week’s challenge. The remaining eight contestants were divided into two teams of four, and asked to create a site-specific public work of art for a piece of land on the Tribeca/SoHo border. After five episodes of struggling, Bravo positions episode six as the possible breaking point for the artists. Bravo is digging for drama because they assume their viewers are too dumb to keep coming back for anything but drama. Never mind the quality of the work—apparently that is not important to the network behemoth. All four of the art world friends I have been watching the show with have better things to do than keep watching a show where artists produce half-assed, half-baked ideas. I don’t blame them. But now I’m hooked, and I’m invested less in finding any art that’s worthwhile—because none of it actually is—than watching who can withstand this bizarre experiment in which artists are mechanically drained of their vigor, creativity and spunk. The artists in this show are like animals in farm factories, being pumped up hard with hormones, then sent to the slaughter, unbeknownst to them. Cut throat much? At least there’s some truth in that aspect of the Art World’s tough reality.

Before getting into a critique of this week’s show, I have to take a moment to rip on Mark Velazquez. Why was Amanda, the African-American abstract painter, voted off the show in round one, when Mark, the large Latino guy who is clearly a bad commercial artist, has been able to stay on the show with his terribly literal pieces like last week’s “hotel art” painting, as Peregrine succinctly put it. Then there was his “shocking” piece the week before, a bland display of three primary color squares, each with a “disturbing” object on them, such as a pair of used panties. If Mark really wanted to shock viewers, perhaps he’d come out and say what a creep he really is.

Mark the artist, and Mark’s work, has consistently been problematic and conceptually weak. When I found this little quote from him on the Art Fag City supplementary blog post about Mark , I realized why I truly disliked him:

“I never go in expecting to win things. I’ve been rejected from enough shows and galleries and women to know you can’t win them all.”

Win them all? Oh, like you’ve won most of them in the past? Right, I really believe that.

After looking back at this statement, now Mark’s bonding with Erik, the asshole who got booted from the show this week for his childish hypermasculinity and poor coping skills, makes even more sense.

While Erik paints bad portraits of his girlfriend, Mark sits around hating women, and associating his hatred for women with the Art World. The Art World, in Mark’s mind, is effeminate, yet he is the big, fat, “masculine” asshole who wants to conquer it? How is this at all different from associating women with the Earth, a la Mother Earth, and men’s need to “conquer” the Earth, destroying it in the process through war, pollution, rape, and anything else negative and harmful?

Erik may have been kicked off this week, but Mark is lurking in the shadows, like the creepy clown in Erik’s painting from a few weeks ago. Mark is the kinda guy who gives good straight guys a bad name—and I know plenty of great straight guys. Maybe Mark was rejected by the first girl who ever asked him out, and then turned his hated toward all women. Maybe Mark fetishizes the dirty panties that he photographed in his shocking work of art? Either way, one thing is clear: Mark’s not getting any, and neither is his jerk in crime, Erik. And that’s where the real insecurities stem from.

Mark was fairly tame this week, however, perhaps because his own voice wasn’t able to come through in this group project. Thank goodness. He was on the Red Team with Ryan Schulz, Abdi and Nicole, who proved herself to be the leader in this group of inadequate male artists.

Nicole has kept her head down and continued working, despite some off-handed misogynistic remarks from Mark. She is clearly more mature than any of these boys, and perhaps has some experience dealing with immature people. On Jerry Saltz’s blog, he mentions a smart tidbit from Nicole: “I know I’m a girl, but we were a real band of bros.”) Says, Jerry: I’m really looking forward to seeing more of her work; she’s a real dark horse.

To his credit, Ryan actually stepped up a bit, and helped with some of the more physical aspects of the project, like sawing the wood. But, just to make sure he completes the stereotype of tortured artist, he has to show the viewers just how bad he is at woodshop. (That’s too bad, Ryan. Now, why don’t you go drink more free beer and smoke cigarettes with Erik at the end of the day?)

The Red Team ended up winning, but not without more Christian comments from Abdi who, at one point, said that when people were walking around the group’s cheesy knock-off of 1960s minimalist sculpture, “There were so many people around the sculpture, I felt like Jesus for a minute!” Way to go, Abdi. Great way to position yourself as the token black Christian guy on this already typecast show.

As for the losing team, the Blue Team, which consisted of Peregrine, Miles, Jaclyn and Erik, I only feel bad for the former three who clearly worked hard under pressure to execute a somewhat fun sculpture idea called Scale—a giant slide-like piece made of wood with silver shingles on the back—which the three of them described as a piece about balance and weight. Erik reverted to a nuisance of a human being, let alone an artist, standing outside chain-smoking. He was clearly upset with his teammates because they didn’t bite at his crappy ideas, but instead turned himself into the victim, crying out that they couldn’t hear what he was really trying to say. Erik’s masculinity was put to the test here as he battled it out with Miles, who is smart, attractive, young, talented and has actual coping and communication skills. Erik’s entire character is built on being a “rebel” of sorts, his entire arm covered in clichéd tattoos, like Alice and Wonderland, and a macho DIY attitude toward art that is not charming in the least. It was obvious to everyone that Erik would go home, which is too bad because he could have stayed on if he’d acted like a gentleman and tried to get along with the team. Instead, Erik’s ego won out, and he ended up screwing only himself. True, his team did not win the challenge, but it was Erik who wound up looking like an asshole on national television—not his teammates.

With only seven artists remaining, the tension continues to mount. Next week the challenge has something to do with going to SoHo, which Bravo has presented as “one of the centers of the Art World.” Um, okay, but it’s not 1970 anymore. Nowadays, SoHo is a fashion district littered with recognizable, established art spaces, not an up-and-coming or at all fresh art district. But that’s apropos to the show at this point, because nothing on it is fresh, new or exciting in the least. Especially since the only African-American woman artist, Amanda, and the two subversive queer artists, Nao and John, are long gone, the show works with those whose work is less “touchy” to the network. Well, except for Erik, who proves that nice guys won’t finish last—the assholes will—which only supports my hypothesis that Miles will become the next great artist.