A Piece of Work: Watching Bravo’s Art Reality Show So You Don’t Have To – Episode 3

I’m going to posit that if you went into a pitch meeting with the programming bigwigs at Bravo and laid out your plans for a reality television show on—wait for it—semantics, you’d get kicked to the sidewalk before you could say “Chomskyan internalism.” And yet, ostentatious semantic debate, like ugly futons and alcohol poisoning, is a staple of a well-rounded higher education. So (and for this we’re quite grateful), Bravo has graciously acquiesced to the shtick of this weekly column—from which you, dear reader, are receiving a university-grade tutorial on contemporary art as defined by a reality television show. Therefore, before you start thinking you’re ready to graduate from the Lycée Bravo just because you passed Padma Lakshmi’s seminar on Foucault, it’s time to review the lecture notes from Work of Art: The Next Great Artist’s recent foray into defining the relationship between linguistic symbols and their meanings.

WEEK THREE: In which it is demonstrated that nobody in the art world can agree on the meaning of even the most fundamental of art terms, namely, “Pop Art.”

SUMMARY: Last we checked in with our cutthroat competitors, they were traipsing around the Simon de Pury & Co. auction house, admiring what may or may not have been a cheap replica of an Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup Can. After the appropriate oohing and ahhing, they were tasked with the challenge of creating their own works of Pop Art. The gang then learned that the week’s winning artist was to receive a two-page spread in Entertainment Weekly—quite the feat given that the magazine has never heretofore featured in its pages any artists not simultaneously being immortalized in a sprawling posthumous biopic.

Mostly what followed were scenes of the Sucklord engaging in repugnant drooling over various female contestants’ bosoms. Also, there were some sob stories of parental death (Kymia Nawabi’s father suffered his shocking demise in an Edward Goreyesque jet-skiing accident) and parental infirmity (Dusty Mitchell’s father has “had a heart attack more than once”).

The artwork was generally bad, with the majority of the artists making the poor choice to, in the name of Pop, tackle sociopolitical issues in alternately facile and obscure ways (think: giant P.D.A. screens with messages including “Click to unfriend Mubarak” and a fast-food-establishment trash can, the flap of which reads, “How Could You?”). Also, the Sucklord made a funny piece about Charlie Sheen, who is funny in an utterly tragic way—much like the Sucklord, in his leering attempts to seduce his female peers.

The winner of the challenge was Young Sun Han, who constructed a large, hot-pink billboard emblazoned with “Prop 8,” on the backside of which gallery goers were invited to scrawl messages about the controversial California legislation. Both Jazz-Minh Moore (the I-was-raised-on-a-hippie-commune artist) and Leon Lim (the deaf, Malaysian artist) were sent home—Ms. Moore for a pair of self-portraits in which she grins and shows off her inner-lip tattoo, and Mr. Lim for a Jasper Johns-ian flag display out of which sprouted American corporate logos.

LESSON: What became abundantly clear over the course of episode three was that no one in the real(ity) art world has the slightest idea of what Pop Art is. Or rather, everyone has their own notion of what “Pop” might entail, but no two definitions correspond.

“Pop is bold. Pop is brave. Pop is sex. Pop is life. Pop is fun. Pop is brash. Pop is political. So make it pop,” auctioneer/contestant-mentor Simon de Pury told his charges, inviting viewers and competitors alike to believe that “Pop” means, well, anything you want it to and can be employed as a proper noun as well as an active verb. (Did he say, “Make it Pop”? or “Make it pop”? A mystery for the ages.)