Twenty-five years ago, flipping the channel to Bravo meant getting a taste of fine art -- a ballet, maybe, or an opera. These days, you're more likely to find glossy reality shows like the fashion-design competition Project Runway or The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
But on Wednesday, Bravo is bringing the worlds of fine art and reality programming together with a new series that pits 14 very different artists -- painters, video artists, photographers and more -- against each other for a prize of $100,000 and a show at the Brooklyn Museum.
Work of Art: The Next Great Artist pretty much follows the Project Runway template. Artists get assignments and create works on deadline while personalities clash. At the end of each episode, somebody goes home. There's even a "mentor" -- art auctioneer Simon de Pury, who is to Work of Art what fashion consultant Tim Gunn is to Project Runway.
"Maybe that's creatively unambitious, but this formula kind of works," says Work of Art producer Dan Cutforth.
He and fellow producer Jane Lipsitz, who were both behind the successful reality series Project Runway and Top Chef, say they're sticking with the familiar to keep things accessible for an audience that may not feel at home in the art world.
But Is It Art?
The Brooklyn Museum's Charles Desmarais says he has no qualms about giving valuable gallery space -- not far from American masters like Georgia O'Keefe and Andy Warhol -- to an artist whose claim to fame will be winning a contest on TV.
"I find it's very much like the juried show," he says. "The juried show was meant to introduce and give artists opportunities that didn't go through normal channels so that everybody could submit their work. I don't think it's that different."
But there are still some differences. In a juried show, artists most likely haven't been filmed while they work in the same room and at the same time as their competitors (with whom they also happen to live).
Photographer Andres Serrano, whose controversial works, including the notorious "Piss Christ," made him a lightning rod during the culture wars of the 1980s, says he was skeptical when the show's producers first asked him to make a guest appearance. But that soon passed.
"I thought the show was good, very meaningful," said Serrano. "I was surprised."
Serrano's only concern about going on the show? "I wanted to make sure I looked good on camera."
He's probably not the only one.