Why ‘Work of Art’ Is TV’s Most Underrated Reality Show

Fall TV
"Work of Art" is back with a whole new cast of artists (Andrew Eccles/Bravo)
"Work of Art" is back with a whole new cast of artists (Andrew Eccles/Bravo)

(Television Without Pity) — It was really easy to blow off Season 1 of "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist." Last season, most of the world either tore it apart or completely ignored it because of its premise and/or its execution. Or maybe it's because many Bravo fans want to watch rich housewives pull out each other's weaves and cheftestants douse everything in liquid nitrogen without having to ponder what it all actually means, or because your average critic has little patience for ridiculous reality TV drama. I do think I'd be giving "Work of Art" too much credit if I said that it revolutionized or even challenged anything about the way we watch TV, but I will say that it's an underrated series and that I'm happy that it's back for a second season. In fact, I'd argue that this is one of Bravo's best shows, and we definitely saw glimpses of that on last night's premiere. Here's how:

The Art is Interesting
Were I to try to talk about the actual quality of the art on the show, I would probably just embarrass myself, but I think I speak for a lot of "Work of Art" fans when I say that the appeal of the competition is that when a piece is good, you get it, and there have thankfully been very few moments where I've completely disagree with the judges or completely missed the appeal of a work. I know some people find the premise of the show slightly offensive and that you can't make great art in such limited confines, but "Project Runway" has been debunking that myth for a solid nine seasons now. And art aside, the challenges and drama behind the actual work are usually on par with your average (and maybe even above-average) "Runway" episode. Then again, I have been known to occasionally enjoy "Shear Genius," so maybe my bar is lower than the typical reality TV viewer's. But, come on, Brig was kind of cool.

[Photos: Meet This Season's 'Work of Art' Contestants]

The Cast is Great
It's obviously early in the season, but I already like these artists way more than last season's, both because of the higher level of competition and for the distinct personalities. While last season we got self-taught-and-obviously-inferior Erik, this time Bravo has wised up and evened the playing field with artists who are no strangers to the professional art world. First of all, obviously: The Sucklord -- hello, we're geeks and were familiar (if not fans of) his work beforehand. Then there's Leon, the deaf contestant. Besides already being a well-established artist, Leon's story is inspiring and his work is beautiful, and I am just generally all for people with disabilities on TV. It's a bit soon to address each artist individually, but the styles are all over the place and seem representative of what's happening in the modern art community right now -- installations, street art, animal entrails -- and I actually look forward to spending more time with all of these people.

The Experts are Excellent
Mentor Simon de Pury may not be as immediately welcoming as His Holiness Tim Gunn, but, as contestant Young Sun described him, the "old-world European count" brings stimulating perspective to the workroom and a really great accent. I've got no beef with China Chow (I love hearing her address The Sucklord) or Bill Powers (meh), and I absolutely adore Jerry Saltz as a judge. And the guest judges from week to week never fail to impress (last season included David LaChapelle and last night, Mary Ellen Mark stopped by), especially since Sarah Jessica Parker is never one of them.

Get a sneak peek at what's coming up on Season 2 of "Work of Art":

"Work of Art" airs Wednesdays at 9pm on Bravo.

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