BRAVO AND REALITY ART
If you happened to be in New York on July 18th and 19th you would have had the opportunity to go to White Columns and audition for Bravo's new upcoming show. No, not Top Chef, not Project Runway, but a brand new art-related reality competition to be produced by Sarah Jessica Parker.
The show will feature 13 artists who will compete in assorted media to "create unique pieces highlighting art's role in everyday life." According to the New York Times and Bravo the pieces will be judged by "a panel of top art world figures, including fellow artists, gallerists, collectors, curators and critics." Does reading this give you a frisson of adrenaline, does it make you fly into your fantasy soul as you imagine yourself being the winner? Well, stop it, stop it right now. In fact, stop reading this immediately. And no, this is not a snippet from The Onion.
On how many levels is this a disturbing development? It is hard to keep one's brain from spinning out of control with questions about how a television show like this could possibly work. For example, how does one audition? It can't only be about the work because all reality shows are as much about the personalities and the appearances of the contestants as they are about the product. So will the final cast be picked because of their body piercings, tats, frisky hair, unusual body shape, tone of voice or general off-beat attitudes? There will have to be an interesting mix of 13 comprised of competitive bitch-types, quiet hard workers, flaming drama queens, some ethnic adversity-challenged folk, older arts practitioners and the inevitable self-taught artists who work in sheep dip. The male/female ratio will have to be addressed and a potential hot love affair with the camera will have to be considered. Silent brooding types, artists who are not verbal or snarky, artists whose work involves sex, politics, religion or transgender issues will be eliminated in favor of those who address the economy, the environment or clothing….anything that could vaguely help sell a product. Somebody has to sponsor all this, right? This all has to be entertaining; it is television, after all.
And who will play the role of Tim Gunn, the kind but stern stick-up-the-ass teacher-type who jousts with the contestants in a kind yet bitchy way? Will Jerry Saltz, Michael Kimmelman, Roberta Smith, Holland Cotter be considered? And the role of Heidi Klum will probably be snared by Sarah JP herself. But the judges? How does one judge art in a fishbowl like this? How does one make art in a fishbowl, under the gaze of cameras….unless they turn their camera on the cameras? Is this performance art on the edge of the rabbit hole?
If Project Runway is the model used for a new assault on our beat-up attention spans it is worthwhile to know that none of the winners of Project Runway have ever "made it" in the fashion biz. Not one was hired by a major player without an expiration date, not one has kicked off a viable, profitable company and the precious few that were briefly hired to advertise a product were one-shot wonders at best. An industry that desperately needs new, fresh, young talent to create demand for its products has not deemed any of the Project Runway children worthy of promotion. The fresh take on things that new designers should bring to fashion was not within the reach of the people on the show, most of whom were chosen because they were entertaining, in a positive or negative way.
What will actually happen, if this circus goes forward, will be a show filled with artists who do the work diligently with some skill, curse a lot, sweat, throw hissy-fits, cry, love or hate each other, are hideously competitive but have no real opinion on things that matter. It will be a sad parody of art making at a time when art desperately needs to sit back and let nothing happen for a while. Art needs to go out of fashion for a while, needs to have the lights turned down so new work can happen. No glossy magazines, no Broadway shows about art, no glittery openings and no Bravo faux-art-freaks on parade.