Work of Art: The Big Show

Jerry considers confessing that he’s a hack while China thinks “Ooh, pretty.”

Work of Art ended Wednesday night, and despite all my complaints about how lackluster the season’s been, it rights its ship by rewarding the best technical artist in the finale who also put together the most cohesive show and I find I have nothing to say but that I’m glad it ended the way it did.

A good result can erase all the earlier disappointments of Bayeté staying over Ugo and Lola staying over Leon (That her stupid Arab Spring Twitter feeds wasn’t in the bottom of the Pop Art challenge will forever remain a mystery.) and Jerry thinking that if he flatters the hot babe with big boobs that, no really, she has talent that he’ll get to hug her, and showing just how provincial allegedly sophisticated New York art critics and gallery owners can be when confronted with non New York artists whose reputations (or lack thereof) don’t inform what the critic and art dealer should think and leads them to waxing profound about candy colored billboards and blacked-out newspaper. So, thank you Jerry Saltz and Bill Powers for confirming that you really don’t know all that much more about art than I do.  And congratulations, Kymia Nawabi, for sticking to your preferred medium and drawing some lovely, creepy and occasionally ghoulish images, even if you didn’t “stretch” yourself to include new media that you’re unfamiliar with or venture into conceptual work that, when laid bare, can be just a huge load of bullshit, Young.

Surprisingly restrained for someone who seemed to vibrate with anxiety throughout the season.

She’d been a favorite of mine, and my dark horse choice to win, since the beginning as I liked her portfolio before the show began, but as with most viewers her win for the children’s art piece really solidified who she is as an artist. And in a show full of installation and performance and toy-making artists, it was nice to see someone with the old-fashioned skills set of being able to draw freehand win. I know Abdi also had those skills, but I also thought Abdi was still more of an art student than an artist and while he could create good pieces there was no “there” there, yet. Kymia’s work seemed more advanced and personal than Abdi’s. To me, her finale exhibit was the strongest of the six presented over both seasons. (Especially since I thought Peregrine should have won last season.)

So with that established, I’ll just give my ideas on their individual shows.

Kymia Nawabi “Not for Long, My Forlorn,” courtesy of

Kymia built her exhibit around the idea of the afterlife in a secular realm. Her pieces weren’t overtly religious or even particularly spiritual. Most of her drawings were rooted in the natural world and the spiritual transcendence of the body’s mortality. Yeah, even reading that it’s all granola-crunching hippiness, but she brought her own slightly ghoulish style to keep it from becoming too patchouli wearing.

Kymia Nawabi “Not for Long, My Forlorn,” courtesy of

When Simon “spontaneously” said they’d auction off a piece, I pretty much knew Kymia won. She had the most “sellable” piece in the boat drawing. I wasn’t as enamored of it as the judges were but even Jerry managed to praise her use of material to add dimension and texture to the drawing. He also managed to sniff his nose at it because, despite clapping like a seal at every one of Young’s most obvious pieces, he felt the feet were too “obvious,” but he’s Jerry.

Several of her other drawing, and especially the headdress, were also sellable pieces so Simon had stuff to choose from. But what really established that she was the winner was them featuring Kaws discussing her drawings in such a dreamy way. Finales of competitive reality shows generally feature the guest judge praising the winner and this finale was no different. I did like how taken he seemed with her at the post win reception encouraging her to come visit him at his studio in Brooklyn.

Walking the galleries with Kaws seemed to do Bill a world of good. Jerry condescendingly says Bill “developed” into a good critic over the course of the show (I don’t even really like Bill all that much, but dude, that’s just obnoxious.) and I wonder if it’s not because he was mostly assigned to view the shows with the guest judges. Whatever it was, Bill seemed almost as taken with Kymia’s drawings as was Kaws which is what I think put her over the top.

Young Sun Han “Bool-sa-jo,” courtesy of

But still, as Young so “humbly” pointed out, his easily digested, faux-important pabulum had made him a lot of money and the clear front-runner to win because if it makes no sense and looks cheap, it must be good? And that’s how he approached the finale. While Kymia and Sara spent their three months creating pieces, he built a platform and planned to take pictures of it during his triumphant trip back to New York where the last photo would be in front of the Brooklyn Museum. Not too arrogant in his belief of his own awesomeness. Luckily for us, Simon told him that idea was utter bullshit and to focus on something a little less coldly arrogant. And something only a little less coldly arrogant, but a lot more emotionally manipulative is what he did.

His show, in comparison to the two women’s, showed exactly how superficial his approach to the work really is. He built his show, at Simon’s urging, around the recent death of his father, but he made it too much about his father and how his father passed that it was an homage that only encouraged viewers to have that one emotion…sympathy for Young because his father died.

He may have tried to say there was more there, but clotheslines of his father’s shirts with pictures of his father dying was too closed-ended. Once you looked at them, you moved on. I was roughly Young’s age when my father died under similar circumstances. I remember it well, as China remembered her mother’s passing, but that seems cheap and exploitative. Where Kymia used the specific (her own father’s death) to consider the universal, Young just used the specific to make people admire him.

Young Sun Han “Bool-sa-jo,” courtesy of

Further, one of his alleged strengths, performance pieces, was not only not present in his final exhibit, although I think the original plan to feature photos of that platform taken during his “triumphant” return to NYC might have been a performance/conceptual aspect, but ended up being better represented by someone, Sara J, who isn’t even a performance artist. Young’s pieces have an immediate impact that makes them seem better than they ultimately are, but in this instance his flaws and failings were so much more apparent because the women used his themes and media better.

Sara Jimenez “Anonymous Contemplations,” courtesy of

Sara had a great idea with the performance piece and had she focused a little more on the video being the centerpiece of her show she could have, and probably would have won. I think she ended up doing herself a disservice by creating the large sculptures, specifically the bed of needles which only referred to the performance piece in an ancillary manner. She’d have done better to set up a few benches so people could watch the video and then line the walls with the water colors and drawings and have the birdcage and woman in the bird suit collecting new confessions at the entrance/exit. More obvious but also more cohesive.

Sara Jimenez “Anonymous Contemplations,” courtesy of

But I disagree with them dismissing her as the third place finisher. She had a concept that she developed and went beyond the personal. She may not have succeeded in creating a cohesive show and ended up diminishing its strongest element, but if the criteria is “pushing yourself” or “stepping out of your comfort zone,” Sara’s the only finalist who even tried and came close. A couple of tweaks and her show is as good as or better than Kymia’s. Young’s was not conceptually stronger nor did he step beyond his high concept/low skills approach so I really can’t see how or why he was better. It’s all just a matter of semantics, though, so I’m not too disappointed that she came in third instead of her rightful second place.

And with this finale, I’m on board for a third season, if there is a third season. Maybe they’ll pull one of Bravo’s favorite little games and let an artist who was eliminated early (Ugo? Katherine? Leon?) come back and compete again. Just not Bayeté or Lola. We know what they’re capable of, and there are plenty of charlatans/crap artists who can take their places.

So Happy Holidays, and if there’s another season, see you next year!

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