14 October, 2010

14 Oct - Jerry Saltz, Peregrine Honig, and reality TV

LAUNCHPROJECTS - Ben and I went to the opening of Peregrine Honig's exhibition LOSER at Dwight Hackett Projects this past Saturday. The show was called LOSER because on August 10, with nearly 1.5 million people tuned in to watch, Peregrine ended up the runner up in the final episode of Work of Art: The Next Great Artist -- the reality TV show aired on Bravo.

Beyond the standard and ongoing debate of whether the reality TV show (now entering its second season) is intrinsically good or evil, I am most intrigued by Peregrine's reaction to the experience (overall very positive) and the experience as described by one of the show's judges, art critic Jerry Saltz. Saltz, frequently labeled a LOSER in his own right for participating in this reality pageantry, commented in New York Magazine that "Bravo had me at hello. The show appealed to my belief that art only got better once the boundaries between high and low culture were relaxed, most famously by Andy Warhol, then by countless others. It also satisfied my hunger to try new things; my demons that demand I dance naked in public; and my desire to see if art criticism is supple and porous enough to be practiced on a wider stage-even if this stage distorted that practice."

Saltz found that people wanted to talk to him about the show - by the thousands - following its airing. Blogs were created, as were fan and hate clubs. It got people talking about what makes "real" art, how art functions as a commodity, and how art can and should be approached, marketed, sold, and promoted. "Work of Art reminded me that there are many ways to become an artist and many communities to be an artist in. The show also changed the way I think about my job. Over the ten weeks it aired, hundreds of strangers stopped me on the street to talk about it. In the middle of nowhere, I’d be having passionate discussions about art with laypeople. It happened in the hundreds, then thousands of comments that appeared below the recaps I wrote for nymag.com. Many of these came from people who said they’d never written about art before. Most were as articulate as any critic. I responded frequently, admitted when I was wrong, and asked others to expand on ideas. By the show’s end, over a quarter-million words had been generated. In my last recap I wrote, “An accidental art criticism sprang up … Together we were crumbs and butter of a mysterious madeleine. The delivery mechanism had turned itself inside out.” Instead of one voice speaking to the many, there were many voices speaking to me—and one another. Coherently. I now understand that, like us, criticism contains multitudes."

Maybe it is through pushing beyond the bounds of our complex and highly ritualized current art structure that we can find a new function for art in every day life. Or maybe Work of Art really is a bastardization of the art world and its meaning for art lovers and artists. Either way, it became an interesting social experiment. And it clearly got us all talking.

Pictured above: Honig and Saltz, Me & Ben at the opening, detail of our latest art acquisition - Peregrine Honig's Birdsmilk.