REVIEW: ‘Work of Art’ season 2

“Happy families are all alike,” Tolstoy began Anna Karenina; “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I think that sort of applies to the current slate of reality competition shows. Pretty much they all follow the same format: An “initial challenge” (reward on Survivor; quickfire on Top Chef, etc.) that typically comes with a built-in advantage; an elimination challenge (the heart of the competition), usually on a ridiculously tight schedule; judges sniping about why this gown made in 45 minutes completely out of trash bags is not runway-ready; then a panel where the winner is selected and the bottom three are singled out; interviews are sprinkled throughout with the contestants pointing out each others’ flaws.

The only thing missing from that description is the actual talent involved. That’s where Tolstoy comes in.

There are competition shows about hair-cutting, cooking, fashion designing, dancing, singing, extreme traveling and wilderness abilities; but none are more peculiar for a contest than making art. (Maybe writing a novel; the problem is, it would take years to film.)

It’s almost a boondoggle if you think about it: People’s taste may be subjective, but at least on Project Runway you’re weighing dress against dress; on Work of Art, starting its second season tonight, you might be comparing photos with sculpture with graffiti with performance art and painting. On Top Chef, contestants may literally be comparing apples and oranges, but here, it’s watermelons and race cars.  If there is a more esoteric enterprise, I can’t imagine it.

Which is not to say Work of Art is a meaningless exercise, although even more than Nina Garcia, the taste levels of the judges are at least as puzzling as the execution of the contestants. When China Chow drones on that one artist’s style recalls Keith Haring, she acts as if there could be no greater insult to a gallerist than reminding someone of someone else. Since when did Michael Kors design a dress that didn’t have some predecessor in history?

The highfalutin nature of the show means that it really fits in the Bravo stated profile better than, say, any of the Real Housewives franchises (remember when Bravo had opera?). It challenges you a little to consider what art is, and how creativity is funneled in different ways. It’s a show meant for a sophisticated urban audience. (Sarah Jessica Parker is one of the producers, as if it could have been called Art and the City.) There’s a slightly self-congratulatory aspect to it, as if you feel more cultured in evaluating artists without the bother of going to an actual museum.

So how “unhappy” is this show? Artists are temperamental folks, and pretty arrogant, but part of the fun is seeing how their egos are shaped by the others’ around them; and even some of them allow their libidos to influence their styles and their affections for other contestant.

Work of Art is no better or worse than most competition series, but I do enjoy the creative process being given equal time to all the bad behavior on TV. If that’s patting myself on the back, so be it.

Premieres tonight on Bravo at 9 p.m.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WATCH: Robyn last night at South Side Music Hall

Robyn escaped the machinations of other pop divas by giving all to her songs instead of distracting with over-abundant choreography and gimmicky tricks. Of course, South Side Music Hall is a smaller venue and likely no pop performer there will have that much trickery behind their show, but nonetheless. She thrusted her voice and body into every song turning her concert into a cardio workout and a ferociously unforgettable experience.

Tearing through hits like “Dancing on My Own” and “Fembot,” Robyn was spot on with attitude and moxie. Her voice at times was thin, but this audience didn’t care as the crowded house pumped their arms in the air and danced completely out of their personal spaces. Robyn commanded the way many veteran divas do. But don’t think Madonna, think Janis Joplin.

The gays were en masse and so were the gals while the straight guys tweeted about being the only ones in the audience. But with everyone dancing and grooving as one cohesive unit, none of that mattered. She finished her just-shy-of-two-hour set with a couple of encores including “Hang with Me” and ultimately. a sort of deconstructed “Show Me Love.” With her hands in the air forming a heart  and mouthing “I love you,” clearly she felt the love this audience gave her all night. She earned it.

Diamond Rings performed a solid set despite a shaky start. Sound issues kept popping his mike but he pretty much shrugged it off and continued his almost hourlong set. Finally catching his groove, he rocked the guitar, keyboards and strange dance performance art schtick. The tall, lanky Canadian won big time with the crowd giving a show with the panache of a veteran. Plus, as small of an act as he is, it was nice to see many in the audience singing along to his pop-rock sound.

We walked into Natalia Kills performing her dance pop which filled the South Side Music Hall with pounding bass any dance club should be jealous of. With some staged choreography and drive to be a bigger star, Natalia Kills worked the stage and growing crowd like a headlining drag queen.

Video shot by Greg Hoover.

—  Rich Lopez

James Franco on cover of new trans magazine

For their second issue, Candy, the first magazine devoted to trans culture, dressed up James Franco in old school Joan Crawford-esque drag for the cover, shot by photographer Terry Richardson. This adds to the ever-increasingly-gay-friendly actor’s list of random moments in LGBT support. Jezebel mentioned the cover Wednesday with the following blurb about Franco.

James Franco has been exploring sexuality for sometime — his art show included lots of male genitalia; in his student film he “dashes” through the Louvre wearing a penis on his nose. He did an interview with The Advocate, the world’s leading gay news source. He’s played gay men, and directed movies about gay men. He says he’s not gay, but he certainly seems interested in sexual identity, gender and self-expression through performance art.

The magazine’s trailer for this issue says there are only 1,000 copies in print available worldwide, so we’re thinking that’s like one issue in one bookstore in Dallas? And somehow, I don’t think a used copy will be found at Half Price Books anytime soon. The magazine is scheduled for newsstands on Oct. 24.

Candy is the creation of Luis Venegas from Spain who is also behind the magazines Ey! Magateen and Fanzine137. With Candy, he touts it as “the first fashion magazine ever completely dedicated to celebrating transvestism, transexuality, cross dressing and androgyny, in all its manifestations. … Candy is a magazine for everybody. A space for individual freedom, and a publication that pushes people to take on the persona of what they always wanted to be.”

—  Rich Lopez