'Work of Art': TV's Strangest Delight

Bravo's art competition series is its weirdest show. It's also weirdly entertaining.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

In a sea of many strange shows, Bravo's Work of Art is perhaps the network's strangest. On paper, the show -- a Project Runway-style competition series where the product is fine art rather than fashion -- should not in any way, well, work. Art is such a big, undefined, and most importantly high-brow topic to cast Bravo's fluorescent light upon -- any effort to do so must surely cheapen it. And while we are probably several leagues away from the rarefied air of Art Basel, there is still a strain of genuine artistry exhibited in the series. It's your standard Bravo competition show, just with a loftier, and weirder, goal in mind.

Though the show has the pedigree of Project Runway creators and, at this point, certified reality TV geniuses the Magical Elves, I was wary of the show last season. It just seemed so completely ridiculous, this idea that we could somehow assess Art (it always seems to require a capital A, doesn't it?) and reward cash prizes to those who do it "best." So I didn't watch, convinced this odd smudge on the TV landscape would be wiped out after one unwatched season. But my curiosity was piqued when Bravo began airing a second season. Surely there must be something there worth watching if enough people tuned in to earn it a second go-around. And so, thanks to the wonder of DVR, I caught up with the two or so episodes of this season that I'd already missed and by the end of the third episode was, with a sigh, fully hooked. It's so much more entertaining than it has any right to be!

But really, if you think about it, should this come as a surprise? Artists are weird, guys. They're really, really weird. And sure the crop of artists on this show are only reality TV weird -- there's no Marina Abramović sitting and staring for days and days -- they're certainly quirky enough (one guy this season was named The Sucklord) to sustain engaging hours of television. The producers also did well in hiring the downtown-elegant China Chow as their host, unfiltered New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz as a judge, and the daffily European art auctioneer Simon de Pury as the Tim Gunn-style "mentor." De Pury and Saltz are serious about this business and yet never condescend to the context they're in. Their stamp of approval, certifying the crazy crap the contestants whip up under punishing time constraints, means we can view it as Art as well. Sure it's never terribly deep -- we've had glancing coverage of big topics like gay marriage, poverty, sexual identity, etc. -- but the work is often actually pretty interesting.

And, as Project Runway proved so winningly, simply watching the struggle and joy of creation is absolutely its own entertainment. Of course there are also fights and tensions and mean girls (Lola, cursed Lola!) and all that other good reality TV stuff too. Would I buy any of the pieces we've seen so far (we're down to five contestants)? No, almost absolutely not. But that's not the point! I love Project Runway even though I've no use for an Austin Scarlett dress. (Well, hm, maybe I do.) It's just fun to watch these people put their sweat and guts (one almost literally) in the gallery every week.

Last night's episode was maybe a little too screwball, as the artists had to create little wares and sell them in a park, but people still created a couple of interesting pieces. Who knew a wall of signatures could be so quietly effective? There are only two episodes left, so it might be too late for you to catch up, but villainess Lola is still in the game, as is the aw shucks Arkansas boy with a baby at home, so there is a healthy amount of character still in play. And there's more ridiculous artwork to be made, of course! I watched the episode with a friend last night who had never seen it and she was thoroughly entertained, so I say go for it, give it a watch. Hey, if you like it there's always next season to look forward to. Hopefully, at least.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.