This week, the season finale of Bravo’s art-related reality TV show aired, knighting the 23-year-old Abdi Farah as what the tagline calls “the Next Great Artist,” which comes with the benefits of a solo show in the Brooklyn Museum, and a piece to be auctioned at Philips de Pury. Also, every inch of that sentence has been violently protested by a surprising hoard of passionate dissidents, many of whom preface their comments with “I don’t call myself an art person, but–.” That in itself has proved the show to be successful to me.
I mentioned after the show’s premier that I foresaw this as a valuable experience in showing a larger public more emerging art while demystifying the exclusivity of art insiders. I’d like to add now that the show has done something I didn’t fully expect, and that was only possible through the medium of a tv show: it given people a space and greater comfortability to discuss art.
To understand the magnitude of this, we have to start in the museum and gallery. These two institutions need to have a sheen of completion and some incontestability to survive; their very exhibitions defend that which they are displaying. This defensiveness on behalf of the institution becomes another barrier between the non-frequenters and their ability to feel confident about their individual aesthetic judgement. I do not mean to exaggerate the strength of this barrier or diminish the will of the individual, I simply mean to comment on the feeling of awe and intimidation, however slight, that is built into our museum and gallery spaces.
What this show has done, therefore, is to remove that barrier of intimidation by taking the viewing process out of its usual institutionality (albeit by putting it into another one). It takes works that are decently representative of some emerging art now, and brings them to the viewer in his own space, in which he is comfortable making and defending his judgment. And because thew viewer sees the artists talk, and watch these pieces come into being with no previous scholarship or criticism attached, he participates as an equal in an open forum. Jerry Saltz, famed art critic and regular judge on the show, wrote in his final of many blog posts throughout the season that the show has given birth to a different kind of art criticism. I’ve pulled an excerpt below:
“I wanted to see if art criticism was porous and supple enough to actually exist on a different stage….[and] It happened in the tens of thousands of words that all of you wrote in the comment sections at the bottom of the recaps. An accidental art criticism sprang up, practiced in a new place, in a new way, on a fairly high level. Together we were crumbs and butter of a mysterious madeleine. The delivery mechanism of art criticism seemed to turn itself inside out; instead of one voice speaking to many, there were many voices speaking to one another. Coherently. All these voices became ghosts in criticism’s machine. It was a criticism of unfolding process, not dictums and law – a criticism of intimacy that pulsed with a kind of phosphorescent grandeur.”
Mr. Saltz has my utmost respect for recognizing the potential of this new kind of viewing process, and honoring the reactions it can elicit. He and his fellow judges, all of whom blog regularly on the show, have called this an experiment, and rightly so. It was an experiment in diffusing artistic knowledge and authority through an atypical medium, and for that it was immensely satisfying to witness. I will be curious to see how an institution like the Brooklyn Museum further engages with this, when Farah’s show goes up.