I've tried several times to watch the Bravo series "Work of Art". When it was casting, I knew a number of artists who went to the cattle call, or casting call, or arts call, or whatever we want to call it. One even made it to the "second round", which means he at least made it past the initial screening.
So now a group of people are competing for a solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. It's great for the winner, it's probably good for art. I'm not sure how good it is for Simon de Pury, who somehow seems to lack the televisual tartness that Tim Gunn brings to Project Runway.
Whatever the case, the idea that a television show can make (but I would like to think not break) an artist's career isn't necessarily good or bad television. Instead, it simply represents a condensation of the arts education process, coupled with a heightened opportunity for access.
What's so surprising is the idea that the "opening" is when one really looks at the art. Anyone who has ever been jammed elbow to drink, struggling through a lobby, knows that people who really want to look art art don't do so at an opening. More often than not, it simply doesn't work, and the "idea" of the opening devolves into something part spectacle, something part expression, something part exhibition, but all the while to inhabit a space that exists somewhere in between.
What Work of Art really highlights for me is how far away we are as a culture from having either the experience of art or the idea of art a part of our everyday lives. Instead of actually attending a gallery (patronizing in this context is all to problematic a word), we can experience art mediated through the television screen, coupled with senses of ennui, frisson and drama, all the while never really considering how we might contextualize these works were we to encounter them in a non-televised context.
In a sense, a show like this highlights the disregard with which much art has come to be held, at least to the extent that one could combine figurative painters, designers, installation artists, conceptualists or whatever else into something that has no more cohesion than the opportunity to get a solo museum show.
The problem is that when that television viewer finally drags themselves down to their local museum, where they may or may not even encounter an exhibition of contemporary art, there is a disconnect that is far more significant than the cross-media or cross-discipline hopping we're seeing portrayed on tv. For in that very moment that this viewer (who may have become motivated to visit a gallery precisely because of this show) discovers that their local cultural institution isn't really like the show (cut to visitor trudging up marble stairs on neoclassical facade), we create precisely that instant of disappointment that museum and gallery professionals find so horrifying in the first place.
So let's think a little about both the opportunities and the outcomes for Work of Art. The artist gets something great; I imagine the sponsors get something great; perhaps even the judges get a 'bump', maybe more twitter followers, maybe more readers, maybe more visitors to their commercial galleries. But for the people who might really think that this thing represents the real art experience - just what do they get for their work?