Putting its own spin on the successful formula behind “Project Runway” and “Top Chef,” artists-vs.-artists showdown “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” falls on the classier end of the Bravo spectrum and should make a fine addition to the summer schedule — unless the art world proves a touch too highbrow for the home of “Real Housewives.” It certainly comes with an elimination catchphrase that gets the job done: “Your work of art didn’t work for us.”
First episode — which gets a special preview after the season finale of “Top Chef Masters,” before settling into its regular 10 p.m. slot — goes a long way toward assuaging any concerns the concept may be better suited for PBS. Colorful contestants abound, including 62-year-old hippie Judith who specializes in “pussy” art (an intentional double-entendre), 23-year-old OCD-suffering Miles and 26-year-old sexpot Jaclyn, determined to make people notice more than her tight outfits.
Former Sotheby’s chief auctioneer Simon de Pury serves as a Tim Gunn-esque mentor to the group, while the panel of judges includes New York Magazine senior art critic Jerry Saltz, gallery owner Bill Powers and curator Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn. Host China Chow is a former model and sometimes actress (“The Big Hit”) who earned reality-TV cred with a guest-judge stint on “America’s Next Top Model.” Executive producer Sarah Jessica Parker adds a dose of celebrity to the premiere in a brief appearance that somewhat pretentiously establishes she’s onboard because she grew up in a family that loved art, “at a time that the government supported art.”
While the regulars fill their roles admirably, the focus remains on the competition. At stake is a $100,000 cash prize and a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Premiere week challenge sounds simple enough — artists are randomly paired and tasked with creating a portrait of their partner — but the process is fraught with requisite dramatic tension and results are predictably varied.
What’s especially intriguing about “Work of Art” is the highly subjective nature of art itself. Even more than fashion or food, art tends to be an intensely personal realm of ever-shifting standards. Watching competitors create on demand, explain their intentions and face the judges’ instant evaluation could provoke meaty debates onscreen and off about what constitutes the “best” art as weeks progress.
Whether “Work of Art” winds up engaging with any of those larger questions or simply provides an addictive mix of catfights and craftsmanship, it certainly has the goods to become more than just a knockoff.