When I say, “motion,” you say, “Poop! Semen! Intestinal gore! Erections! Puke!” Usually, that kind of response would be worrying. I’d suggest that you seek professional help. I’d perhaps start filling out paperwork to acquire a restraining order. That is, unless you then revealed that you were an artist. In that case, I’d recommend you get yourself onto the cast of a reality television show, stat. For you, my gutter-minded reader, have the makings not merely of a good artist, but of the Next Great One.
But let’s backtrack, way back, to the dawn of episode two of the second season of Bravo’s “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist.” It is, literally, dawn (6:30 in the morning) and auctioneer/contestant mentor Simon de Pury is rousing the remaining 13 artists by menacingly murmuring “wake-y wake-y.” Because Mr. de Pury has never adjusted to the time difference between his European fiefdom and the isle of Manhattan, he looks bright-eyed and impeccably besuited, even at this godforsaken hour.
The bleary artists blindly follow their leader to some kind of outdoor plaza, where “Work of Art” host/socialite/”jewelry designer” China Chow is wearing what appears to be a Pac Man costume. Soon some ninjas arrive, back-flipping and front-flipping all over the place. It’s entirely possible that such shenanigans always take place at 6:30 in the morning, hours before the art-world alarm clock artfully beeps at a quarter past ten, but who’s to say.
“I’m sure you weren’t expecting to see this when you woke up this morning,” Ms. Chow ominously intones, probably referring to her giant yellow tent of a sweater. Anyway, it turns out the ninjas are not ninjas at all (yawn) but rather members of New York Parkour, “first and official home of Parkour in the New York New Jersey and the surrounding Metro area,” according to their website.
No one on the show ever explains what Parkour is — I would have guessed a kind of French parka sported by Mr. de Pury on his annual snowshoeing holiday — but someone named “Oasis” has helpfully defined it on the troupe’s site as, “an art developed to help you navigate your environment from one point to another, using the capabilities of the human body.”
“You won’t catch me doing that sh**,” the contestant known as the Sucklord mutters, little knowing that excrement comprises much of what he’ll be doing in the subsequent hours. The artists are split into two teams, tasked with preparing two separate “exhibitions,” each of which will present a coherent piece about movement, made up of individual works by the artists.
Does that make sense? It makes about as much sense as “an art developed to help you navigate your environment from one point to another, using the capabilities of the human body” (we call that walking, right?). Also the artists are supposed to start things off by taking a very brief stroll through New York to find inspiration for the challenge, because otherwise it would be too straightforward.
Members of team one include the Sucklord, Dusty Mitchell, Bayeté Ross Smith, Sara Jimenez, Michelle Matson, Kymia Nawabi, and Sarah Kabot. Michelle wants to do “a pooping piece.” “When you’re attracted to pooping, what is it… the thing coming out?” the Sucklord asks incredulously. “No I like the actual poop,” Michelle replies, in her eerie, wide-eyed way. “You like the physical sh**,” the Sucklord says, sounding a little too intrigued. Then he says something like “bleep bleep bleep eating bleep bleep.”
The team’s highbrow, art-theory-laden discussion complete, each member picks a part of the digestive process to represent. Describing the end of said process to a disgusted-looking Mr. de Pury, who has dropped in to check on their progress, Kymia says the art will get “shat out.” And the word does not get bleeped out. (Maybe this is because “shat” also served as a term of endearment when referring to an Irish person in the 17th century? Bravo probably consulted the OED on that one.)
Simon expresses his concerns with the project, pointing out that, as he sees it, pooping is something that happens in “very, very slow motion.” Too much information, Mr. de Pury.
The second team consists of Young Sun Han, Lola Thompson, Leon Lim, Tewz, Jazz-Minh Moore, and Kathryn Parker Almanas. Young confides early on, “Before I came to this competition I worked as a curator in New Zealand, so I have a lot of experience with this sort of thing.” What exactly is “this sort of thing?” And what exactly is going on in the New Zealand art world these days?
“Look at Jazz-Minh,” someone on the team gasps, “she’s the sh**.” Well, not in the, you know, “physical sense.” She’s just done a front handspring. That inspires team two to make a work about migration. This decision leads them to collect garbage (physical shit) from the streets of New York to use in their piece. This is a real thrill for Leon, because, as he reveals, all he ever wanted to do in Malaysia was pick up garbage but his parents wouldn’t let him. “That was one of the reasons I moved to the United States,” he says.
And the revelations just keep on coming, as we learn that Kathryn has some kind of digestive disorder, the name of which was not entirely clear but which sounds, not to be too rude, like “Prawns Disease.” [ED. NOTE: A reader has helpfully informed us that this is Crohn’s Disease, and that Ms. Parker knew she had it before she entered the competition.] She’s decided to make her usually bloody guts photography, while Young’s going to do something about North and South Korea, Lola’s planning to make a work that addresses the phases of the moon, Jazz-Minh’s going to engage in some kind of gymnastics, and Tewz and Leon will depict the aftermath of domestic conflict. In response to all of this, Mr. de Pury freaks out in a very well mannered way and suggests that both teams start from scratch.
In a confessional interview, Leon signs, “Simon says it’s a complete failure.” Then, in sign language, he exclaims, “Motherf*#%er.” This gesture is blurred out. But still, it’s OK to say “shat.”
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
TEAM 1/SECOND ATTEMPT
The first team agrees on a kind of amusement park/playground theme, for an installation they have dubbed “Play With Me.” To address this topic Michelle crafts a wood-frame person, the testicles of which you can tug to give it a sculptural erection. Kymia makes a clay cast of her tongue that bobs up and down over a pile of brown lumps and plaster fingers. Bayeté films himself spinning around and around on a rooftop. Dusty cutely misses his wife and so feels inspired to build a see-saw, on one end of which is perched a life-size photograph of Dusty. Sara J. makes a little clay girl with a creepy carved vagina sitting on a wooden swing and Sarah K. makes some kind of minimal toothpick thing that would resemble a rollercoaster if you’d never seen a rollercoaster. The Sucklord puts together a carnival attraction, wherein you can launch rubber rats at targets.
“I want to play your game,” Lola says of the Sucklord’s rat-toss in a grating baby voice. “You’ll get to play when it’s ready,” he replies grossly, even more grossly adding, “It’s dirty.
TEAM 2/SECOND ATTEMPT
Young tries to take charge of the team’s second go-round at movement-inspired art. Unfortunately, while Leon is throwing out a bad idea — to have everyone make work about circles — Lola decides to stand up for the deaf guy, yelling, “We have to let Leon finish talking because, please, he doesn’t, he can’t, doesn’t, have a voice.” So, that’s that: the project is called “loop” and “it’s about balls.”
Things get worse for the team when the sickly Kathryn declares, “I’m just not feeling well,” so hers “won’t be an exact circle.” No, it will be more bloody organs, this time filmed while being dropped from a height onto plastic. Young’s piece is a silver version of the Japanese flag. Tewz, recognizing that a bucket is round, wraps a hose around a bucket and then affixes some plastic hands to a circle on the wall. Lola covers a big orb of shredded paper in hot glue, while screaming, “I’m double fisting it with hot glue guns… it’s so semen-like.” The Sucklord observes her, lustily.
Leon is the only person making art that actually moves — he crafts a moody tableau, with a swinging light bulb suspended in front of a broken pane of glass. Oh, and Jazz-Minh sticks a photograph of her front-handspring from earlier in the episode onto a piece of wood.
The judges do their usual stalk around the room, with this week’s guest, the gallerist Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, who was a judge on season one. China Chow is wearing a pillow-case toga, which looks like it’s covered in wine stains, probably from when the judging panel was pre-gaming the crit. Ms. Rohatyn dubs Sarah K.’s piece “a ride… a ride that you do with your eye.” It looks like the Sucklord slips Bill Powers a dollar bill as a bribe to hide in his hair with all of the other bribes he’s received over the years. Mr. Powers then slightly too gleefully watches Ms. Chow stimulating the erection sculpture.
“Play With Me” beats “Loop,” and the judges single out Bayeté’s dizzying video and Michelle’s nad-groping art as the top two individual pieces. Of Michelle’s work, Jerry Saltz — who is clearly feeling spicy, as evidenced by his purple shirt — says of the penis-pumping piece, “You took the idea of movement and went inside with it.” Mr. Powers adds that “it was uncomfortable in a fun way to engage with it, be close to someone activating the piece.” Ms. Chow, not to be outdone, declares, “I’m not scared of the erection. It’s funny that the females seem more comfortable than the men do.”
The purple-shirt-sporting Mr. Saltz of course takes this as a challenge, and promptly jerks some wooden balls, proclaiming “There!” thereby dealing a searing blow to potential gender inequity on national television. However much people love erections, however, it turns out they love nauseating video loops more, so Bayeté wins. “It’s kind of hard to pin down,” Ms. Rohatyn says of the footage of a man spinning around.
The judging panel admonishes the entire losing team for choosing to make art about circles — “that’s like saying we’re just going to have the theme be paint,” Mr. Powers groans. But the three worst works came courtesy of Lola, Tewz, and Kathryn. Even with Halloween fast approaching, and even with her recently revealed mystery illness adding some intrigue to her reality-TV personality, Kathryn’s gore-filled film turns out to be the biggest loser of them all.
When Mr. Saltz dryly proclaims, “this work looks uncannily like the work you did last week,” Kathryn starts wailing, really weeping, and making hyena-like barking noises. Mr. Saltz can’t decide whether to laugh or pat her shoulder, but Ms. Chow tries to sound nice. “Bye, Kathryn, feel better,” she drones robotically. As a catch-phrase, it doesn’t quite have the oomph of Heidi Klum’s auf weidersehen, but it did the job — Kathryn will have to Parkour it all the way back to Brooklyn.