How to fix Work of Art: replace the judges with auctions conducted by Simon de Pury

Bravo’s reality competition Work of Art should work better than most talent-based competitions. That’s because, unlike Top Chef, we can watch the construction from something to nothing and, with some exceptions, judge the final product ourselves. We don’t have to rely on judges to tell us how something tastes; we can just look, as we can on Project Runway.

But as the second-season finale proved, Work of Art is majorly broken, and that’s because of its judging. It’s terrifyingly obvious that the show needs to dump its judges–China Chow, Jerry Saltz, and Bill Powers–because they cannot offer a consistent, coherent critique of the art and unintentionally mock the art world by being a parody of art critics. Consider last night’s finale (warning: results ahead; skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know). Can you summarize the judges thoughts about winner Kymia Nawabi’s show versus runner-up Young Sun Han’s work or third-place Sara Jimenez’s show? Kymia’s looked more cohesive and professional and real to me, but I watched the judging twice and cannot easily summarize the strengths and weaknesses. How about deconstructing the actual choices each of them made as an artist?

The final acts are a disaster, and that’s because its judges suck. For Project Runway, production company Magical Elves, which created the show, found judges who can analyze visual pieces and articulate professional standards while being entertaining. For Work of Art, producers found judges who are nearly always incoherent and inconsistent.

Here’s an easy way to fix it for a third season, which I hope it gets:

  1. Fire the judges.
  2. Replace the gallery show with an auction conducted by Simon de Pury conducted at Phillips de Pury and Company.
  3. The artist whose piece earns the least amount of money should go home.
  4. If more than one piece doesn’t sell, or the bottom two earn the lowest amount, there are multiple possibilities: a) let the contestants vote, b) let a guest mentor artist choose the worst piece, or c) have those attending the auction evaluate all the pieces before the auction, and use those results in the event of a tie.
  5. Interviews with the people who bought pieces–or didn’t buy them–would be interesting and more insightful than the shit the judges give us now.
  6. The audience for the auctions could change week to week; for example, one week it might be full of kids and their parents, while the next it could be Real Housewives cast members. (Producers could give the auction attendees real or symbolic money to use, but ideally, they’d be spending their own money, which would give us the best idea of how valuable and appreciated the work is.)
  7. Because Simon is simply auctioning pieces, he can remain as mentor, a job he does very well. As a bonus, have guest mentors each week who are actual artists.

That’s it. Everything else stays the same, from the challenges (though season one’s were stronger) to the production design (I love the establishing shots). You’re welcome, Bravo and Magical Elves.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.