Rise of the celebrity artist: Vietnamese artist Trong Nguyen featured on Bravo TV reality series


From dance competitions to rehab, it seems that no subject is left untouched by reality television producers. Even the act of finding a spouse has been successfully commercialised for audience entertainment. Now, with Bravo TV’s new series, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, viewers can get a glimpse inside of the often misunderstood world of contemporary art. But at what cost?

Reality TV and contemporary art finally meet

While some shows bank on the star appeal of celebrities and athletes, others take virtual unknowns and catapult them to instant, albeit usually shortlived, fame. Some shows evoke groans of annoyance as others reign in viewers eager for enterainment or curious about the show’s focus. Bravo TV has churned out a string of successful competitive series in several disciplines including fashion, cooking, and modeling just to name a few.

As of June 2010, Bravo branched out into art with the premiere of it’s new series, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist. For executive producer Sarah Jessica Parker, the show is about making art accessible to audiences who may consider it to be a “rarefied” world. In addition to giving the fourteen featured contestants a shot at a substantial amount of cash, USD100,000 to be exact, the winner also wins an opportunity to exhibit their works at the Brooklyn Museum. Such high profile spaces are rarely made available to emerging artists.

Cast of Bravo TV's Work of Art: The Next Great Artist

The cast of Bravo TV's 'Work of Art: The Next Great Artist'.

But could all of this backfire? Some argue that reality TV oversimplifies certain disciplines or even presents a distorted idea of what it’s actually like to be a successful artist, dancer or model. There is also the question of whether critics and other artists will take the show’s contestants seriously. Even so, the series aims to show, in an entertaining manner, that art is not exclusive or elitist. It is something that everyone can experience, even on a daily basis. In an article published by Zap2It, Parker states:

I want to express that we all have art in our home, whether you save a postcard from a friend or put your son’s or daughter’s drawings up on the wall. That’s art, and you are part of it … and it shouldn’t be any less accessible to you than to anyone else.

As for contestants, there are those who view the competition as merely a starting point, regardless of whether they win or not. Reality stars are made quickly and can fizzle just as fast if their careers prove to be lackluster. Such possibilities don’t seem to daunt most of the artists on the show, many of whom seek to at least stand out and generate some buzz around their name. Most of the fourteen selected artists are in their twenties, few are experienced, and all are hoping that this chance of a lifetime is worth the risk of failure in front of thousands, if not millions, of viewers.

Profiles of the judges can be found here.

Vietnamese artist Trong eliminated in second round

Artist Trong Nguyen

Artist Trong Nguyen.

Brooklyn based artist and curator Trong Nguyen falls into the small category of contestants who have already achieved success. It was not enough, however, to guarantee him a spot in the third round. At only 38, he has had several international solo and group exhibitions, received numerous grants and is currently an editor for ArtSlant.

We’ve summarised below an interview with ARTINFO in which Trong discusses the artists’ attitudes towards the show, issues with judges and why he joined the cast.

When asked if he feels animosity towards reality programming, Trong expresses amibivalence, a sentiment that was reflected in his second-round installation, What Would Tom Freidman Do? (2010).

The piece itself was about my ambivalence … I thought that any serious artist,  when they’re talking about making a reality show about art, has to have subversive reasons for doing the show.

In regards to the anti-reality TV phrases written on the television sets, Trong states “… the truth kind of hurts sometimes”. The judges eliminated Trong in the second round; his truthful remarks may have indeed struck a nerve. That is not to say that the judges fawned over Trong from the start. Some snapped back with what Trong hinted were unhelpful critiques.

The judges are so defensive that they end up ignoring what you have to say, which I feel is so unconstructive … I think they actually dote on certain works and certain people on the show for whatever reason, and it hasn’t felt constructive to me.

As a more seasoned artist, Trong questions the usefulness of critiques especially when aimed at the younger contestants whom he “feels protective of”. Equally so, Trong questions the ability of these artists, many of whom are fresh from undergraduate studies, to make work with depth at such a young age.

At that age, no matter how talented you are, you just haven’t experienced life enough to really make art that has substance to it … An art career is such a long thing — you have emerging artists out there who are still in their 50s, it’s not like any other profession.

Not only does Trong feel that many of the artists are too young, but they are also putting themselves in a vulnerable position too early. The possibility of ruining ones’ career before it starts is all too real for these young unknowns, although Trong has the immunity of experience and reputation.

One of my main things I said to myself: ‘There’s no way this is going to affect my career negatively.’

Trong's piece from his eliminating round, "What Would Tom Friedman Do?", 2010, Installation

Trong's piece from his eliminating round, 'What Would Tom Friedman Do?' (2010, installation).

With all this, one may wonder why join the cast in the first place? But for Trong, the answer is simple.

If someone asked you to do the show, would you do it? … you have this great opportunity to experience this, why wouldn’t you do it? It’s the difference between living an active life and living a passive life. So I always go for the route of active.

Seems like an easy choice but becoming a great artist is never that simple.  Mega-artists and art superstars are nothing new, but can one be made on television? The show’s intentions of giving aspiring artists a chance while exposing audiences to the art world are noble, yet using reality TV as a medium could be problematic.

Do you think the series can live up to its name and purpose or will it fall flat? Post your comments below.


Related Topics: celebrity art, crossover art, Vietnamese artists

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