Next Great Artist 6: Shirts and Skins

Posted July 18th, 2010

In episode 6, a collaborative challenge was custom-designed for drama, an art school equivalent of shirts and skins in gym class.

BRAVO producers determined that interpersonal tensions are entertaining in a way that the creation of art is not. In the first five contests, ideas and opinions expressed during production generated accusations of idea theft. Near plagiarism of the work of recognized artists, on the other hand, was lauded as homage. This time, there was no pretense that the participants were sole originators of their works; the choice of a paint tube sent them to Teams Red and Blue.

Red and blue were someone’s idea of art team names?  They could at least have chosen complementary colors—pairs like red and green, yellow and purple, blue and orange. Opposites on the color wheel might have been more in keeping with the theme of the show. Pitting the Poussinistes against the Rubenistes would have been fun, or maybe the Naïves could have battled the Primitives. But then irony is an aesthetic for which BRAVO has no appreciation.

The episode was really about Erik and beyond that the nature of the inevitability of art to sequester itself in the fortress of the academy. There is, after all, always an academy. In the 19th century the young followers of Édouard Manet accepted the moniker “Impressionist” when they challenged the rules of the French Academy which had a stranglehold on the most important exhibition venue of the time. The New York School (a.k.a. the Abstract Expressionists) challenged the dominance in modern art of the School of Paris in the 1940s. Neo-Dadaists and resurgent realism undermined the hegemony of the Abstract Expressionists in the late 1950s. To paraphrase Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan on Willem de Kooning, each new generation of artists engages in an Oedipal struggle to take down the monarchy and to refurbish the castle.

There has been little chance to see Erik as an artist. To some extent that has been his fault as he hammers the fact that he is untrained (read “an outsider”) and disrespected (read “from a lower class”). It is obvious that he was BRAVO’s idea of a fish out of water. I think he has talent, I think he has ideas, but his emotional immaturity and creative insecurity led to too many and too tedious personal accusations and defensive posturing.

In the end, Erik gave up and simply played the team experience as his dramatic exit scene.

Neither piece was good. My favorite moment came when Jerry Saltz expressed his horror that the Blue Team didn’t know that the open sky visible from the sculpture garden was the gap left when the Twin Towers fell. This should have been the opportunity for an exploration of the connection between knowledge and memory and the significance of that connection for public art.

Miles (23) is from Minnesota; Jaci (25) grew up in Miami and has lived in the City for a couple of years; originally from San Francisco, Peregrine (34) now lives in Kansas City; the hometown listed for Erik (31) is Homer, Illinois. None of them would necessarily have a vivid sense of Manhattan geography, especially not if they are as directionally challenged as I. They ranged from age from 12 to 25 on 9/11 and it is difficult to know either the personal or cultural impact the event had on them.

Blue Team’s key mistake?  If they had said, “we deliberately oriented our sculpture toward that void as an act of memory,” I think the Jury would have just swooned over the poetry of it all. This Jury is all about the exegesis.

My Dear One thought “Stonehenge” a better piece than the “Big Chair.” I agree that the Red Team was unquestionably the successful team. The Jury argued that it was superior in interactive appeal, but I wonder what might have been the case if the viewers milling about had mostly been children.

Seven down and seven to go. I hope I can stay awake through the final challenges.



Leave a Comment