Asian Americans on Reality Television: Work of Art – Next Generation

Bravo TV’s reality show Work of Art – Next Generation (Wednesdays at 6pm), now in its second season, is the art version of Project Runway. Every week a group of emerging artists living together in a Manhattan apartment are given limited time to produce “works of art” based on prompts and materials delivered by actress/model host China Chow and guided by art auction house owner Simon de Pury, the Tim Gunn of the series. The artists’ works are then shown in a gallery and judged by a panel of art critics and a well-known guest, such as executive producer Sarah Jessica Parker. Read more about the show – and the Asian American contestants on it – after the jump!

It’s not surprising that the series is little known and hasn’t garnered the success of Project Runway. The art world has snubbed it; and I imagine that the general TV audience, and in particular reality show set, doesn’t find fine and mixed media art as accessible or even interesting as fashion, which is a pity because I think the show is pretty stimulating. And it might get some people’s juices flowing about creating or seeing art in a different and more easily digestible way. Yes, art is subjective, but I also believe the more of it you see and ponder, the better you are able to judge what is “good” and “bad”, what has meaning or sensual merit and what doesn’t. Not to mention that two of the now seven final contestants are talented Asian-American artists with something to say and the skills to back it up. Young Sun, a gay 28-year old Korean-American from Illinois has won three of the six challenges so far; and Sara Jimenez, a 26-year old Filipina-Canadian from New York, is one of the finalists too.

In the last aired episode, the remaining eight artists were paired up and given a huge wall space on a warehouse building in DUMBO Brooklyn to produce “street art” or what one artist calls “the last bastion of rawness.” What was made by Young’s and Sara’s teams were visually arousing pieces that were personally meaningful to them, but also completely relatable and potentially significant to every viewer.

At the beginning of the show, Young’s team partner Dusty (a sweet Southern art teacher from Arkansas with a mullet) remarks that they are having trouble coming up with an idea for the challenge because he and Young can’t be any more different, with different life experiences. Dusty says deadpan, “I recently became a father, and Young has a boyfriend.” After a false-start, they get to talking and find out that Dusty became a father at the same time that Young lost a father, and this realization turns out to be the common ground needed. What results is a moving and interactive piece. They paint their conversation on the wall of the building, with their silhouettes facing each other and talking bubbles in between where Young says “I recently lost my father” and asks “How does it feel to become a parent?” and Dusty says “I recently became a father” and asks “How does it feel to lose a parent?” In the middle of their conversation in small letters is the simple statement “It changes you” along with empty bubbles for people to fill in. What’s cool is seeing how they couldn’t connect in the beginning but then totally do with their artistry, but more importantly their humanity and personal experiences. You can feel their real empathy for one another intersect. The symmetry of their graphic painting also works, and it helps that both guys are utterly affable and humble characters on the show.

Sara and her teammate Kymia, an Iranian-American, also find a connection through their immigrant parents’ “forced exile” of being uprooted from the Philippines and Iran and being re-planted somewhere else, Canada and America, to find better lives. Their work entitled “Re-route” featuring giant black and white alien looking figures, one pulling the other seemingly from the ground, is praised by the judges for its just-right use of scale on the building (best seen far away) and raw emotive quality, making it true “street art” and winning second place.

On the opposite end of the scoreboard were the works of teams led by the vixenish Lola, who painted scenes of “imagined voyeurism” including tiger penises (don’t ask, what was supposed to be “canned debauchery” just turned into silliness) and self-proclaimed super villain Sucklord, who produced a boring 3D maze (even topped off by a rat and cheese). Yes, their names say it all, and as the judges say – their works did not work!

Next episode (11/30), the artists must use a car component from a Fiat and transform it into a piece of art. This may not sound like the building block for true works of art, but the fun lies in seeing the end products from the debris and judging for yourself. Besides, the winner of the show receives $100,000 and a solo show in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, not too shabby for any artist, reality show contestant or not.

(Image credit: ArtInfo)

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About Janice

Janice Luo is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University. She is originally from Northern California and seems to be locked in a love/hate relationship with Los Angeles, the city in which she lives.
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