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County Fairs, Dancers, and White Castle: The Winner is Named on the Season Finale of Work of Art

I'll admit that I didn't expect to enjoy Bravo's Work of Art: The Next Great Artist as much as I did in the end.

Before the season began, I was curious just how the format would work. After all, true art takes time to develop, and the series seemed based around the type of severe time restraints that could hamper true creativity.

But a funny thing happened: I found myself sucked in and captivated by what was unfolding before me. I had hoped, all along, that the final three contestants standing would be Miles, Abdi, and Peregrine. And that's just what happened going into last night's season finale of Work of Art ("The Big Show"), in which the final three artists presented a group show, with one of them walking away the winner of the season and their very own show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

For one thing, I loved just how very different each of these artists was, how each of them focused on different subject matters and expressed their artistic temperaments in vastly different styles, some preferring oil and charcoal, sculpture and sketches, or massive mechanical parts and rapidly constructed silkscreens. Plus, the troika assembled for the final showdown were all so supportive and encouraging of one another, which was refreshing to see on a reality competition series.

I also really wanted to see what each of them would be able to pull off, given a longer time frame to work with and without camera crews and fellow contestants hovering over them. As I said earlier, true art takes time. It can't always be cobbled together in a few hours before midnight and inspiration and execution take time.

There's no way, for example, that Abdi could have created those sculptures in an evening in the Work of Art studio; they were the products of precision, time, and effort unfolding over the course of several months rather than a scant few hours. Which is what true Art--with an intentional capital-A--is really all about: the artistic process itself. I'm glad that the producers of Work of Art did realize this, granting the final three artists a larger timeframe to work with, taking the format of the final show from Magical Elves' former reality competition hit, Project Runway. It's a device that not only allowed the finalists time to contemplate and reflect, but also for the cameras to follow them home and check in on their progress and their life after filming on the majority of the season has wrapped.

What we see in their work is vastly different than what we glimpsed on the series. There's far more thought and conceptualizing going on here, as each of them tackles themes that are important to them, themes that are enacted in a variety of work and media, allowing them to built towards a show with a vast array of pieces, rather than one singular work.

So what did I think of their final efforts? Let's discuss.

Despite his efforts to stay away from being so rigid and orderly, Miles still managed to remain too constricted, creating a series of pieces that tackled both death and surveillance but remained out of reach. There was a tantalizing quality to the series, which depicted elderly patrons of a local White Castle--and the homeless man who froze to death outside two days after his picture was snapped by Miles-but the work remained far too lodged within Miles' own head.

He had stumbled onto an intriguing concept but it was a concept that hadn't quite worked itself out yet, remaining something in progress rather than something complete and finished. In particular, I wasn't moved at all by the abstractions that he created from the photographs of the dead man. It was a thought-provoking study but the story behind the pieces were more interesting than the pieces themselves. To the untrained eye, they were abstractions without any concrete coherence.

I was really taken by a lot of Peregrine's work for her County Fair show but agree that she could have done with some editing. While I loved the series of sketches depicting vomiting girls (I'd have to disagree that she should lose those), the empty beeswax portrait frames didn't really move me at all, and I thought that she could have ditched those without impacting the feeling or scope of her show in the least.

The photograph of the twin unborn fawns is something that I can't shake from my mind and I didn't even see it in person. There was something so beautiful and sad, fragile and heartbreaking about the piece, so beautifully lit, that was impossible to escape. Likewise, the wax doll's head under glass and the beautiful yellow horse remained standout pieces that were engaging, complex, and compelling. I thought that she understood her theme well and executed an amazing and ambitious show that showed off the range of her skills and styles and produced some unusual and strong work as a result.

And then there was Abdi, who seemed doomed to fail when his sculptures turned up at the gallery only half-finished. I needn't have worried for Abdi often produces his best work when struggling to finish in the eleventh hour. Despite having some issues with the two massive sculptures, Abdi managed to finish on time and deliver a show of staggering beauty and grace. Those two sculptures, finally removed from their plaster and painted and dressed, remained on the floor. Provocative and beautiful, they seemed to pose a number of questions about their identity and purpose. Were they in a state of repose? Were they dead? Were they stretching for dance or sport?

There was a gracefulness to the bodies that was echoed in several other of his pieces, including the color-inversion self-portrait (inverted in position as well) and the photograph of the bodybag entitled "Home." They asked big questions of not just race and identity but of mortality as well. It was the work of an accomplished technician but also a savvy and inspired artist pondering the mysteries of life and death themselves.

I had a feeling that it would come down to either Abdi or Peregrine in the end, given that Miles' work was a little too abstract in the end. But I'm overjoyed that Abdi took home the grand prize and will get a chance to launch his own show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. He's completely deserving of the award and the honor and I can't wait to see just what he's able to accomplish on a broader scale. As for Peregrine, I dare say that this isn't the last we hear of her. Her show demonstrated great range and complexity and I think we'll be seeing big things from this accomplished and "otherworldly" artist in the years to come.

What did you think of the season finale? Would you have awarded the win to Abdi? Just what went wrong with Miles' work? Head to the comments section to discuss.

Based on the spot looking for auditions at the end of the episode, it does indeed seem like Work of Art will be back for a second season. Stay tuned for information about a launch date.


ewench said…
Great review and I agree with all you have to say!

When I saw what Miles produced I was also thinking it would be between Abdi and Peregrine - if Miles would have stuck with the wood structure abstract pieces he was winning with all along he might have had a chance, they were different. Honestly I could fire up Photoshop and create a similar show to what he did! He was sort of a poser, his "tragic artist" schtick never really worked for me, especially after I saw his whitebread home and parents.

Totally agree about the profoundness of the twin fawn print and yes, Peregrine had some amazing things but yes should have edited herself.

I was pretty sure Abdi won when the guest judge started crying as he viewed his powerful "Home" piece.
The CineManiac said…
Loved the show and I was soooo glad Abdi won. I originally really liked Miles the best, but as the show went on Abdi won me over with his personality, beautiful art, and faith. Plus, I think he grew more as an artist than anyone on the show.

I was also pleasantly surprised at how much I liked Peregrine, as she was never one of my favorites.

I am excited to see what all three of them do in the future and I can't wait for season two.
Anonymous said…
I went into the finale interested to see who would win, but not having a favorite. I felt that any one of them could achieve their goal. I'm satisfied with the result, but have one bone to pick with you, Jace.
Miles was exploring the notion of death and isolation. He blew up the image of the homeless man who froze to death until the man's image no longer was anything viewable at all. In fact and in Miles' art, the man disappeared. There was nothing to be seen. There's an honest poignancy there. I agree that Miles' work often seemed cold and removed, but in this case, it wasn't any colder or more removed from the mainstream than the life and death of the man whom
he photographed.
Cassie said…
I was just so happy that these three were the finalists and really loved how different each show was (and wish I could have seen the pieces in person) but I am happy that Abdi won.

After some struggles, I think he's really made some huge leaps forward as an artist and I'm excited to see what he does next.
Ally said…
I loved this show, too, and I was happy to see a casting notice at the end of the show, as I hadn't heard much about how it was doing.

I think your review is dead-on, esp with regards to Peregrine. She wasn't a favorite of mine throughout the season, but I LOVED her final display. Totally agree re: the vomiting girls. I think they fit in perfectly, and also agree re: the wax frames. With a little bit of editing she might've won it.

I was so sure all season that it was a fait accompli that Miles would take it, but when I saw his final display I knew that wouldn't happen. His work of art didn't work for me. ;)

But - I was rooting for Abdi all season. He was my favorite from the start, so I was thrilled to see him win. His sculptures were breathtaking.

Here's to season 2!

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