Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Art Is the Gap"

Bravo's Work of Art is so sad and silly I actually look forward to watching it every Wednesday night. It's not exactly like watching a car-wreck. It's more like watching a bunch of really serious-minded, old-school performance artists try to re-enact a car-wreck without knowing how funny and pathetic they look.

The show is a Top-Chef/Project-Runway pastiche that cancels out all the fun by making the prime objective Art, capital A. At least on Top-Chef/Project-Runway you have something edible or wearable to judge at the end of the day; with this gig the judgments seem totally arbitrary and anachronistic because of the totally arbitrary and anachronistic nature of the art being made. For example, trying to find a winner when the show split into two teams and designed and executed two horrible outdoor sculptures was a Waiting-for-Guffmanesque sideshow, the art-world-name-dropping judges seriously inspecting a couple of rickety-looking wooden monoliths made hastily by two groups of people trying to please them with their ingenuity and aplomb.

The contestants are from differing backgrounds, but they all seem to have been chosen to represent types: there's the feisty feminist, the art-school darling, the "outsider," etc. And the contests they all undergo to prove they are the Top Artist are on the whole dull- and literal-minded. Challenges like make art like when you were a kid, make shocking art, make art that reflects who you are. The artists on the show all go at it like what they are doing is meaningful because it has to be meaningful so they can win $10,000.

I guess what's missing from the show, and what can't be counterfeited or forced, is the fact that art as a concept and commodity is so diffuse and unconfined in the 21st Century there's no way to capture it in all its glory. Anyone trying to funnel all of art's power into an hour-long TV show ends up getting the most pathetic bits and pieces, so that art becomes a game and not a reason. A contest and not a revelation. When I go to a gallery or museum I truly appreciate the anonymity, the sense that the art was made by someone but now that process is over and here it is: mysterious and ready to be made into something else by the people who see it. On "Work of Art," the artists are just trying to get a good grade, and that sad lack of ambition creates parody.

But still I enjoy watching the thing because it reminds me of what art is not: not a contest, not an A+ or B-.

Marcel Duchamp once said, "It's not what you see that is art, art is the gap."

Maybe that should be the next "Work of Art" challenge: "Artists, don't make any art today. Just make a gap."