Even though Miles Mendenhall is an adorable young man, after awhile, his work on Work of Art started to drive me nuts. It reminded me of a roommate that I had who I thought was both a bit of a hoarder and also had OCD tendencies. He was an architect and a painter, and when I moved in he had taken over the front room of the apartment as an erstaz studio. His art involved lines and grids, made with duct tape and art tape, and there was a stack of newspapers as tall as me in the corner. Empty peanut butter jars filled with stagnant water took over the kitchen. There were about twenty of them.
Luckily, he was a nice kid, and when I was like, dude, come on, these are not good living conditions, he chilled out somewhat. I think having a girl in the apartment helped. I had cute, dateable friends. It was a motivating factor. But the sheer mental obsessiveness of Miles’ work - and how it did nothing for me - took me back to those days of duct tape grids. After awhile, I start thinking art or not art and do I really want to be in this person’s head? Meh. I’ve been to the Sol LeWitt exhibit at Mass MoCA a bunch, and it’s really a disorienting experience. Usually I start out thinking, “This is not art! This is wankery!” and then after awhile, the room just starts getting to me - I feel sick, physically ill, like I’m dizzy and could throw up. And then I start to realize a reaction that visceral certainly means that his work is art.
It was interesting to see the Work of Art finale - I was rooting for Peregrine’s exhibit. I thought it was deep, well planned out, and it seemed fun and new. But she combines darkness and whimsy which is a tough combination to go over well. I thought that, overall, Abdi’s work looked shallow and amateur, even though he’s quite skilled and can, when he wants, make a really soulful piece, even though it never quite scrambles your brain cells. It looked terrible on the TV, but when you saw the depth of reaction in the judges and David LaChappelle, it did seem like he had a fair chance of winning. Obviously, he’s a lovely, genuine, and earnest person so it is nice that he won - but I found Peregrine’s work more affecting, wrestling with more, and I was rooting for her.
I’m curious as to how much sway David LaChappelle had. I think he’s a shallow commercial charlatan of an artist - and I’ve seen Rize, his documentary on Krumping which should’ve been fascinating and instead was devoted to beautiful scenes of beautiful bodies dancing in the LA canal. It seemed fitting that he went nuts over Abdi’s pieces, devoted to beautiful bodies, seemingly saying one note as far as I could tell.
But to be fair, any opinion one can have of art seen in a minute on a TV show is something that’s fleeting and shallow in its own way. I hope the next season they figure out how to make the show a more gratifying experience for the audience. I don’t know if art translates well to TV!