Double elimination is double the fun on certain competition shows.
The five remaining “Work of Art” competitors end up whisked out of the city and landed in my backyard, Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Conn. The challenge was a nature-inspired piece that also incorporates something from the shoreline, marsh or woods. “Nothing with a heartbeat,” China Chow instructed. No cutting the heads off turtles and plastering them to canvas? No placing dead rabbits in compromising positions? How restricting!
It was amusing that Jaclyn Santos seemed to have an allergic reaction to nature — and only a New Yorker would really consider a trip to Westport, famous for housing Wall Street commuters, a jaunt in the country. (Her response here.)
Then it was mentor time: Abdi’s idea of using ground rock from the beach and mixing it with charcoal to create a striking self-portrait was clever in technique and wonderfully executed, but Simon de Pury questioned its connection to nature. Then to Jaclyn, who complained of a cold. “I’m so sorry to hear that,” Simon said evenly. I’m coming to really love his responses to the artists’ works. He says all the right things, but in a very direct and dispassionate way. I kept expecting another Tim Gunn, but didn’t get it, and it turns out that’s OK.
His pauses and expressions when mad scientist Miles described his “elaborate system” of chemical-reaction art. “Shit, I’ve gone overboard again,” Miles was forced to conclude when Simon left the room.
Nicole, who was tempting Miles with visions of Jell-O wrestling, offered a very crunchy granola type of sculpture. She didn’t just suggest nature, she recreated her own little world into something strangely pretty more more other-worldly than Earth-y. (A favorite art blog of mine, written from a more informed perspective, said it looked like a hippie air-freshener.)
Then Peregrine was forced into re-thinking her tree thing. Miles suggests a “public sex” theme — I wonder if he knows a little something about Sherwood Island’s reputation. Unfortunately, her integrating of sex seemed tacked on and not truly integrated into the original work, judges said. She should have known from at least one earlier elimination that cartooning techniques don’t fly.
Then, gallery time.
Miles did well. The judges liked his meditation on a piece of schmutz from the beach. But one judge started to sense something about Miles himself.
“Sometimes I feel like you hide behind that obsessive compulsive nature of yours and it can come off as a little too clever to me,” said Bill Powers before conceding that he kinda liked the installation. During judges’ discussion, Bill said Miles lacks “soul and emotion, which unfortunately he has very little of.” It’s not clear whether he’s concluding this from his art or if he’s privy to Miles’ studio antics.
Abdi, the final human being, created the judges’ favorite work (despite his use of a “Palm Beach art fair” frame, according to critic Jerry Saltz) and he’s joined by mad-scientist Miles and sulking hangdog Peregrine in the finale. Jaclyn seemed like a real contender throughout the season, but her confrontation with trees and sand seemed to overwhelm her. I was rooting for Abdi (could you tell?) and hope he wins, but his gratitude and sense of wonderment have stopped being endearing. He’s not a tourist, he’s an Ivy League grad from Philly and he deserves to be there.
This week provides a strong example of where Miles and Adbi diverge. Miles took a piece of fungus and created a multi-piece installation that reflected nature in subtle, sophisticated ways. But Miles, 23, admitted to a bit of overkill he attributed to trying to compensate for his youth. Abdi rendered a beautiful and touching image that referenced baptism and rebirth a little more than nature, but the suggestion of water in the piece seemed to satisfy judges that nature was touched on. At 22, I don’t see Abdi overcompensating.
The other artists seem to feel affectionately toward Abdi, also, but in this unaired footage, toward the end you can see his well-meaning colleagues say “I’m proud of you” for his latest piece. Abdi doesn’t seem to sense this, but it seems so condescending to me.
When I try to picture which artist would be more suited to a show at the Brooklyn Museum, which is part of the grand prize, I’m forced to conclude that Miles’ installations are probably a little more hip to the scene. Soullessness sometimes wins.