The New York art world is a place where egos, off-shore bank accounts, and matters of ineffable taste cohabit—where real money is paid for goods that resist commodification and everyone really does wear black.
It's a glamour industry inflected with an air of intellectualism: easy to esteem and even easier to mock. Glitz and impenetrability make it fun to speculate about from afar, while the intricacy of the ecosystem proves difficult to document.
But Bravo, that behemoth of reality TV programming, has tried. Best known for series that pit practitioners of telegenic crafts like cooking and dress-draping against each other, its producers have also sought to import the rivalries of Top Chef and Project Runway into the artist’s studio. In Work of Art, which premiered in the summer of 2010, young artists competed for a cash prize and a solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, their work judged—to the surprise of many—by actual art-world eminences like New York magazine’s art critic Jerry Saltz and Simon de Pury, the chairman and co-founder of one the largest auction houses in the world.* But whatever insider glimpse the series promised was offered through the wrong peephole. Work of Art revealed that the "creative process" isn't what's captivating about the art world, at least as television. It’s the money and power and personalities we’re interested in. Nobody wants to watch paint dry.