“For the past three years I’ve been an intern at Eli Klein Fine Art,” says one of the characters on Bravo’s Gallery Girls by way of introduction. This should give you a good idea of what the reality series, which premieres Monday at 10 pm, entails: a handful of pretty young women trying to make their way in the New York art world despite multiple indications that it may not be the best path for them. Pitting the blonde Upper East Siders with fabulously wealthy parents and apparently permanent internships against Brooklyn brunettes on the verge of opening their own gallery/boutique (also with the help of family money), its relationship to art is roughly the same as The Hills’ was to journalism.
In other words, if you like to watch rich girls pick fights with each other and call their dads while soaking in a bubble bath (really), Gallery Girls is for you. But its lack of actual art world relevance got us thinking about what kinds of art-related reality shows we’d rather see — along with Bravo’s fun competition series, Work of Art, of course. It occurred to us that there is no shortage of fascinating, entertaining, and controversial personalities in contemporary art, so we hope you’ll excuse us for mixing the highbrow with the low in this list of famous artists who would make great reality stars.
Tracey Emin, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 (1995)
Perhaps the most fascinating voice to come out of the Young British Artists movement, Tracey Emin is known for her raw emotional honesty. She burst onto the international scene in the mid-’90s with an installation piece called Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995, a tent decorated with the names of all 102 people Emin had slept next to (but not necessarily had sex with). From there, she went on to create such works as My Bed — in which she relocated her real bed, complete with used condoms and blood-stained underwear, and various other personal objects to London’s Tate Gallery — and a series of neon text pieces with titles like I Can’t Believe How Much You Loved Me and I Followed You into the Water Knowing I Would Never Return. All of which is to say that Emin, who is just as colorful in public appearances as in her art, would likely bring both radical openness and romantic drama to the small screen.
Terence Koh, nothingtodo, 2011 [Image via]
Canadian artist Terence Koh has already has his own series: the Terence Koh Show, which lives on YouTube, ran from 2008-10, and featured more than one of the art stars who will appear on this list — and Lady Gaga. He’s also shown up on Work of Art. So it’s clear that, along with keeping his audience guessing by bending gender and working in multiple media, from performance art to installations to gold-plated poop (really), the perennially white-clad Koh is a well-connected guy whose reality show would surely include no shortage of celebrity appearances or glitzy parties.
Who better to showcase on a reality show than an artist whose best and most famous works were made for display not in museums, but out in the world? For the past 35 years, conceptual artist Jenny Holzer has created spookily penetrating critiques of commercialism, gender inequality, and philosophy via the sparest of aphorisms, which she projects on buildings, posts on billboards, and even prints on products. “Protect me from what I want” might be her most famous slogan; another one goes, “Slipping into madness is good for the sake of comparison.” Perhaps she wouldn’t be exactly right for a run-of-the-mill reality show, but who could deny that it would be excellent to set up Holzer as a life coach and follow her around as she dispenses advice?
There are two things that make performance artist Kalup Linzy perfect for reality TV: First of all, he is obsessed with pop culture, making lo-fi video pieces that simultaneously celebrate and mess with our perception of everything from soap operas to R&B musicians. Secondly, he’s a close friend and collaborator of James Franco, who (if nothing else) is always good for an on-screen moment worthy of The Soup. We imagine him doing something along the lines of Real Housewives, where the conflicts are heated and the jewelry is sparkling and the line between reality and melodrama is thin to non-existent.
Laurel Nakadate, May 30, 2010. From the series 365 Days: A Catalogue of Tears, 2011. Courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York [Image via]
Speaking of artists who have collaborated with James Franco, another great candidate would be Laurel Nakadate, whose videos and photography are all about exposing oneself and others. She’s posed in the homes of random men, captured young women half-naked in their bedrooms, and made herself vulnerable to the camera in multiple senses of the word. Seeing as she’s responsible for two feature films, we’d expect Nakadate to direct as well as star — and for the results to fit right in with HBO’s most daring psycho-sexual programming.
If Laurel Nakadate is for HBO, then Ryan McGinley is for Cinemax. The 34-year-old photographer has made his career on capturing beautiful, usually naked young things partying, frolicking in the natural world, communing with animals, and just generally having a free and hedonistic time. We imagine a show that documents his shoots would come out something like a real-life Skins, minus the plot.
Come on: Who isn’t curious about the daily life of Yoko Ono?
Everyone called Exit Through the Gift Shop “the Banksy movie,” but that wasn’t quite accurate. With the street artist behind the camera (and disguised in the interviews that appeared in the film), its real subject was Thierry Guetta, aka the mysterious Mr. Brainwash. And although Guetta’s story — and ensuing conversations over the extent to which it’s true — is fascinating, how amazing would it be to follow Banksy as he covertly posts his pieces and struggles to hide his identity? Listen, we know a Banksy reality show is about as likely as a Smiths reunion. We’re just saying, in some alternate universe, it could be great. Hell, we wouldn’t even complain if he stuck with the Grim Reaper get-up.
Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present: Marina Abramović. Photo Credit: David Smoler/ Courtesy of HBO Documentary Films & Music Box Films [Image via]
Yes, she just just starred in an excellent documentary, but do you think a single film can exhaust the appeal of the 21st century’s most famous performance artist? Since Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present pretty thoroughly covered her daily existence, we’d like to see a reality series where Abramović recreates her most important works for the folks at home. OK, so there would be a lot of nudity to get around, and an hour of the artist staring intently into the camera probably wouldn’t steal and viewers away from Two and a Half Men, but maybe Thirteen would be into it?
Ai Weiwei, Sunflower Seeds, 2010. Photo credit: Tate Photography © Ai Weiwei [Image via]
Every once in a great while, reality TV has some kind of redeeming social value. Since we recently established that dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei — who also just got a documentary of his own — is as important for the way he lives his life as for the art he makes, we can think of no better person to follow on a daily basis. Witnessing his quotidian struggles against censorship and oppression would provide an invaluable case study in the modus operandi of the Chinese government, and Ai would make a smart, lively, and entertaining guide.