LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - A pair of magical elves is hoping to do for art what reality TV shows "Top Chef" and "Project Runway" did for cooking and fashion design. "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist", which debuts on cable channel Bravo on Wednesday, June 9, pits 14 very different artists against each other in weekly challenges and awards the winner a $100,000 prize and a solo exhibition.
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The question is, can highly personal, visual art be judged like a gourmet dish or a ready-to-wear collection? And is the rarefied world of art ready for a reality TV make-over? "The whole point of the show is that there is no right opinion. Everyone has their own subjective view. But it is amazing every week that there is a consensus about the quality of the work, and what's good and what's not," said Dan Cutforth, one of the executive producers.
"Good art really moves people and inspires a reaction. You know it when you see it. The old chestnut 'I don't know much about art, but I know what I like' is true," he told Reuters.
"Work of Art" comes from the same Magical Elves production company that blended personality and the process of fashion design in "Project Runway", and helped lift the lid on how food goes from good to great in "Top Chef".
The world of art, and its colorful characters, is the latest community getting the chance to share its creative process with a wider audience. In the first challenge, contestants ranging from 23 to 62 years-old are randomly paired off and asked to produce a visual work that captures the essence of their partner. A three-person panel of judges decides who has responded best to the challenge, and who will go home.
"When we started reaching out to the art community, we were worried that people would be against the idea of a reality show. What we found was that people were pretty receptive," said Cutforth.
More than 2,000 people from oil painters to conceptual artists and silk-screen experimenters applied to take part, reflecting the hunger for a larger public canvas for an often misunderstood form of expression. In future episodes, the contestants must create unique pieces in mediums such as sculpture, photography, collage and industrial design.
"One of our goals for this show is for people to realize that art is all around them. It shouldn't frighten people to have opinions," said Jane Lipsitz, Cutforth's Magical Elves business partner. "People perceive art as being possibly elitist and a rarefied world. So it would be amazing if we were to bring art more into the mainstream," she said.
Just as importantly, the TV show has been embraced by professionals. Mixed-media artist Jon Kessler and photographer Andres Serrano (right) are among the guest judges, while the permanent panel is made up of New York gallery owners Bill Powers and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, and New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz. Art auctioneer Simon de Pury acts as mentor to the contestants, and the series winner gets a prestigious solo show at the Brooklyn Museum, the second-largest art museum in New York City.
In the past eight years, Cutforth and Lipsitz have built a business celebrating creative talent in a reality TV genre often dismissed as superficial and gimmicky. But "Work of Art" is one of their bolder projects. "I think the art world is definitely risky. It would be very easy for people to think this show is not for them. But I think people who actually watch will be sucked in," said Cutforth.Nao Bustamante, a 40-year-old San Joaquin, Calif., native, is one of the competitors on the new Bravo reality competition series "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist."
The show brings 14 up-and-coming artists to New York, where they compete for a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum and a cash prize of $100,000. Art enthusiast China Chow hosts.
Bustamante almost didn't audition. "I kept getting e-mails with the link to audition, but I just passed them on to friends who I thought would be more telegenic. They ended up talking me into going with them, so obviously I wanted to be talked into auditioning," says Bustamante with a laugh.
Over the past year she's gone through auditions, meetings and the filming of the episodes. She won't give away any details of what happens except that she was often stunned by the process.
Bustamante (right), a New York resident and youngest sister of former California Lt. Gov Cruz Bustamante, never would have dreamed of being on a TV series when she was younger. While growing up in the central San Joaquin Valley she was so shy her mother took her to the doctor to see what could be done. He suggested dance classes.
Bustamante got involved with band and parliamentary procedure while attending Tranquillity High School. She earned a scholarship to California State University, Fresno to study agriculture economics.
"After about one semester of that I was bored out of my skull. I was taking dance classes and went to a workshop in San Francisco. I got a job and stayed there to develop what I can now call my career," Bustamante says. Bustamante, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, is a performance artist who works with an assortment of mediums. Her works have been displayed in galleries, museums, universities and other sites around the world.
"The Next Great Artist" pits artists who work in diverse artistic mediums: photography, charcoals, video, silk screening and oil. Bustamante says judging such a competition is difficult. "There are so many different worlds in the art world and it means so many different things to people. Sometimes people want to judge art on their own understanding of it. I don't think any system of judging art is perfect and maybe that's the point of the show, too," Bustamante says. "I think it'll be interesting for people to have their own perception of art challenged."
Bustamante was less concerned with the judging process than how much the show pushed her to work in new mediums. There was also the show's pace, which required works to be completed in 12 hours. She hopes that the series will excite viewers to bravely attack their own art projects.
Win or lose, Bustamante calls the experience of being on the reality show one piece of her lifelong efforts to break boundaries and get people thinking of art in different ways. "I don't see doing the show as a make-or-break moment," Bustamante says. "I see it as a part of myself and a part of what I am already doing."
courtesy: Rick Bentley