Work of Art – Kitsch Me If You Can

Michelle Matson and Sarah Kabot courtesy of

If you’re still looking for Art Forum by way of PBS the episode title should tell you exactly how disappointed you will be with this season of Work of Art.  Unless you’re one of the countless artists who “secretly” watched and then discussed how awful it is and how it’s the death knell of serious art while simultaneously guaranteeing its success because that kind of interest cannot be ignored or left unexploited.

So the new season started last night, and as with every reality show, the talent pool deepened significantly.  Even the joke contestants have decent resumés, even if they work primarily in graphic design and photojournalism…or toy making.  But reality TV isn’t about resumés, it’s about entertainment because they will make a Beard nominee look like he works at Waffle House if they have to.

With that in mind we meet the contestants and their self portraits.  They’re all competent but the standouts to me were Dusty Mitchell’s crayon portrait and Michelle Matson’s paper sculpture featured above.  They’re literal portraits rendered in unique materials and make strong immediate impressions.  I pegged Dusty as a likable underdog because he’s small town but well-trained, but I really didn’t expect to like Michelle’s.  Bravo didn’t do well in creating any idea of who she is via their bios other than to place her smack dab in the middle of all the almost interchangeable 20-something women.

But this season will clearly belong to Morgan “The Sucklord” Phillips.  This is no surprise because he calls himself The Sucklord and has already appeared on another reality show, on VH1 no less, but he’s also been on All Things Considered and is quite handy at his chosen venue of toy making.  Simon both owns and has auctioned his work, so he’s not just an attention whore.  He’s clever and obnoxious, self-aware and annoying.  He could have been built in a VH1 lab in Secaucus to create the ultimate reality show competitor because he will appeal to the people who want someone they love, “love to hate,” who “gets it,” who’s “mocking the process,” and most surprisingly, who has talent and something to say.

I’ll be the first to admit I pegged him as the asshole, which he probably will still be, but he’ll be a likable asshole.  Or as Sarah Jessica Parker herself said while talking about Roger Clemens, he’ll be my asshole.  I’m looking forward to his work and his taking the piss out of everyone, including the audience.

Michelle Matson "The Eternal Woodsman" courtesy of

The brief was to choose a piece of yard sale/flea market art and elevate to fine art status while retaining its basic characteristics.  In two days.  Being the first challenge the show couldn’t exactly focus on too many people so they gave away the winners and losers but there wasn’t a lot that differentiated the vast middle.

Except that Young Sun is going to continue giving performance artists a bad name because his mask and self-referencing is already wearing on my soul.  He’s a “big in the art world/annoying out of it” type of performance artist and I don’t really get him.  I will accept it’s because I’m a dilettante.  To me, if it’s all going to be about you, Young, at least be an interesting person.  Although I will grant that a big part of my negative response could be that his mask was reminiscent of Danica Dakić and her movie, Isola Bella was lovely and sad and very Balkan and Young is very…young.

This week’s guest judge was Mary Ellen Mark and, hey, I know who she is.  Of course, she’s a photographer and that’s probably the only medium where I can name someone, but I still know who she is and that makes me feel a little less dumb.  Mary Ellen was one of those nice, thoughtful judges who doesn’t know she’s supposed to be pushy or aggressive on TV but she did stand up for The Sucklord’s awesomely elementary school clay sculpture of Gandalf, even in the face of Jerry Saltz’s edited disdain, so she gets points from me.

Michelle Matson won when she transformed a tacky wooden faux totem pole into a headstone and crafted the paper skeleton sculpture.  Looking at it in the photo it doesn’t seem quite as thoughtful as it did in the episode, though.  But there were a lot of restrictions in this challenge so it’s not like anyone was going to make a masterpiece.  The piece did speak to a personal event, she was the victim in a hit and run accident, and tried to make the personal universal so it was more than just tasteful living room art.

Ugo Nonis "Premier" courtesy of

The same can’t be said of Ugo’s piece, cleverly titled Premier for the American audience that may or may not know it just means “first” in French.  It was a busy red line drawing over a busy red background that looked like boutique hotel lobby art from 1997.  He was very sexy and very French but his “art” was very artless and he got the boot.  It wasn’t completely unwarranted but he really could have saved himself for another week if he’d taken away the red background BEFORE showing the piece because at least the complex and clever shadow would have been visible and it wouldn’t have been as hilariously bad and amateurish as this…

Bayeté Ross-Smith "Scarlet in a Post-Racial Era" courtesy of

Because this was awful and really should have lost.  Seriously, I was making deeper and more meaningful collages when I was cutting out Andy Gibb’s picture from Sixteen and taping it to my closet door.

Bayeté has a decent resumé but between his self-portrait of him talking to himself about “selling out” by appearing on the show, which The Sucklord hilariously asks which one is the sell out and tells Bayeté that one won since he’s here, and this, his first impression is superficial and literal.  I pegged him as the likable professional who gets the early, shocking boot, but after this week, unless his work improves dramatically, his boot won’t be shocking.

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