Next Great Artist 10: Abdi’s Mom is a hundred thousand dollars richer

Posted August 13th, 2010

It’s over and done with and Abdi, as the “Next Great Artist,” will exhibit his work at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The check for $100,000.00, he says, will go to his mother.

In ten years, however, or ten months or ten days, will anyone remember? Will anyone care?

Just prior to the final show, Simon de Pury announced that he would auction a work by the winner at Phillips de Pury, an announcement met with ambivalent quiet.

Note to Abdi: do not, really, please, do not give Phillips de Pury a work to sell. An auction won’t make your art better, more intelligent, more desirable or more meaningful. It will simply make people forget about the work and focus on the money.

I had named Miles the winner by Episode Four. I still am drawn towards his austere, monochromatic works, seduced by their materialization of process and their uneasy expression of private feeling. Peregrine turned out to be a much stronger artist than I thought she was. Intellectually I admire her color sense, imaginative use of material and ability to spin a fairy tale. Even so, her art simply leaves me untouched.

Abdi’s triumph pleased me. From the beginning, his work was attractive in a way I mistrust. At an intuitive level I thought there was more there than meets the eye but I decided my intuition was sentimentality. How could an artist whose work expresses humanism and beauty not be doomed in this contest?

Episode Ten was a let-down but that was no surprise. The fundamentals of art-making were never part of the program and the finale was no different from the premier. I wanted to see the artists’ hands at work and their minds occupied. There were instead more distractions, squealing and hugging, and celebrity pictures. It was charming to meet the folks and get a glimpse of the homesteads. Simon smooching maternal knuckles was perhaps a bit too much.

In the end, however, BRAVO’s Work of Art: Next Great Artist was true to itself. It was a game show in which winning was far less important than avoiding losing. The challenges were sequential and not cumulative; the show was a series of horse races, not Olympic ice-skating. The winner was unlikely to be the most gifted person with the strongest vision, strongest craft and most provocative originality. The winner would have to be the contestant who, through luck, a canny understanding of the judges and some talent, avoided elimination.

I ranted and argued. I pored over blogs and added my two cents often enough that the expenditure was significant. I was not surprised by the ignorance displayed of art history but I was delighted by the passion and perspicacity of the responses. The very idea of art, and the experience of great art as the distillation of what is most human in humanity, is far more vulnerable to apathy than to any particular ideology or set of rules.

Should BRAVO find another fourteen artists with ambitions for fame and fortune and try again?

The general consensus of posters on Jerry Saltz’s “Vulture” blog on the New York Magazine website is yes. It is “yes” at least if Saltz agrees to serve on the jury.

But another season of China Chow’s fashions and Simon de Pury’s affectations? We’ll just have to Be Dazzling! Be Bold! And hope for a Real Work of Art.


BLOG CATEGORIES: General, visual arts

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