'Work of Art' Recap: Sarah Jessica Parker Offers Advice to the Artists

Shari Altman
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Work of Art cast
Photo from Bravo TV
What happens when you gather 14 artists -- some veterans in the art world, others self-taught -- to compete for $100,000 and the chance to have a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum? After watching the season premiere of Work of Art, I think Bravo's newest show promises to be an addictive, entertaining addition to the world of reality television.

Episode one, "Self Reflexive," was all about portraits. We are introduced to the artists first by seeing their self-portraits hanging in a gallery as the artists themselves filter in and meet one another for the first time.

Nicole created a Google self-portrait, which I found to be an interesting choice, if not a little vain. Jaclyn showed her racy side and Nao's self-portrait was a little bit too out there for my taste.

Simon de Prury, a former Sotheby's Chairman and current Chairman and Chief Auctioneer of Phillips de Prury & Company, works as the group's mentor, giving advice and guidance along the way. When describing how he evaluates art, de Prury said, "My approach to art is purely physical. I normally know in the first split-second if it's a great work or not."

The artists' first challenge is to create a portrait of a fellow artist. China Chow, both the host and one of the judges, reminded the artists that a portrait works best if it is "showing the inner essence not just their likeness."

As the artists began working on the challenge, Erik, the self-taught artist of the bunch, admitted early, "I feel a little bit out of my league. I've been in the art world for about six hours now." Only time will tell if he can truly compete with the big league.

An unexpected visit by executive producer Sarah Jessica Parker took the artists by surprise. SJP's advice for the group? "Be brave, be competitive, and be yourselves. Show the world your art. It's time. Do it."

The two most dramatic personalities so far, Miles (a 23-year-old self-described obsessive compulsive from Minnesota) and Nao (a video and performance artist with high opinions of herself), worked side by side, though they didn't communicate much. Miles spent much of his time running around his workspace with tools and goggles, creating a dark room fort. Nao's portrait of Miles tried to capture this frenetic energy in a series of lines and dots, marking his movement around the studio.

The most memorable description of the night belonged to Jaime Lynn, who described herself as such, "I'm not just a ditsy, Christian blond, Barbie wannabe person. I'm an artist."

Sixty-one-year-old Judith also promises to be an interesting personality as she created a "pussy portrait" of Jaclyn entitled "Proud Pussy" and critiqued Erik's work calling it "amateurish." Strong opinions certainly make for reality television heaven, so I feel sure that we will hear much more from Judith in the future.

As for the finished works, some artists, like Nicole, Peregrine, and Jaclyn, opted for a more realistic approach and created pieces where the likeness to their subjects was obvious. Amanda and Nao created more abstract pieces that were hard to decipher when viewed on their own, which landed them both in the bottom three with newbie Erik.

During the critique, Nao continually argued with the judges, defiantly saying, "I'm not responsible for your experience of my work," much to the judges' dismay. Erik kept playing the amateur card, but the judges merely thought that he was making excuses for his inferior technique.

In the end, it was Miles' death portrait of Nao that took the top honors. I agree that it was an inventive piece that did seem to capture her personality. In addition, it really stood out as being unique in comparison to the rest of the pieces.

The judges sent Amanda packing, but I was sad to see her go. I liked her self-portrait piece and was looking forward to seeing more of her art. However, I agree with the judges that her portrait of Jaime Lynn was too abstract, though pretty.

I'm excited to see more from Abdi, Trong, and Peregrine and hope that Erik can step up to the plate and prove the judges wrong. His clown portrait of Mark, by the way, was my least favorite piece of the night. Was it just the pressure and nerves of the first challenge or does Erik not belong in this group of artists?

All of this brings up the age-old question. What is art? And not just that, but what is good art? China Chow, when talking to the bottom three, said, "It's been said good art is not what it looks like but how it makes us feel."

Did you catch the season premiere? Who do you think has what it takes to be on top at the end of the season?


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