The Dye Is Cast

New York

Left: Members of Bruce High Quality. Right: A certain prospective art star.

The undiscovered, the up-and-coming, and the never-will-be snaked along the cobbles of Wooster, around Grand, and back down Greene on Monday morning, braving a twenty-three-degree wind chill and an approaching snowstorm. It looked like the usual throng outside a Deitch Projects opening, but this time the kids were lining up in hope of being selected for the new reality-TV series Artstar. Created by artist Christopher Sperandio and dealer James Fuentes in collaboration with Jeffrey Deitch, the show will follow nine artists chosen to participate in a group exhibition at Deitch’s gallery. In the tradition of American Idol, the premiere episode will focus on this week’s open call, for which prospective art stars were instructed to show up with no more than five samples of their work. A few contestants had arrived before dawn, sleeping bags in tow.

Traipsing up and down the line, I met the club-kids-slash-designers Laidie Magenta and One-Half Nelson of Showroom XS peering from beneath a mountain of satin and taffeta, painters Alan Van Every and Joe Heaps Nelson, and an affable redhead, rumored to be an undercover reporter for the New York Sun, toting some art he “made last night.” Arriving late, the frenzied members of the collective Bruce High Quality clambered in and out of a very DIY head-shaped, blue-eyed float (named “Bruce”). When I asked whose name the Bruces were officially registering under, a masked head poked out from beneath a shower-curtained portal and offered, “I’m Bruce! I’m Bruce!” to which another member in a matching mask parried, “Mothership, mothership, man.” At that, I decided to call it quits, planning to check out the callbacks the next day.

Day two felt a bit like a high-school study hall. The hordes having been reduced to a manageable thirty-two candidates, a hushed tension had replaced the carnival of day one. All the artists were sitting around in a circle inside the private showroom, reading or covertly whispering (risking the reprimands of PA’s charged with keeping down off-set noise) while waiting to be summoned into the adjoining gallery-turned-soundstage. The outfits, at least, cut through the silence. Art student Abigail teVille sat aggressively apart from the crowd in a short fur coat and boots, and one of Artforum’s own interns sported a Neneh Cherry-meets-line-dancing-soccer-mom look in a fringed jacket and purple suede boots. There was also a guy who looked like a family doctor, stethoscope and all.

Left: The scene outside Deitch. Right: The soundstage.

Murmuring “In-vest-i-ga-tive re-port-ing,” video artist and LTTR editor K8 Hardy jolted me out of my reverie, propelling me into the next room to check out the action in the inner sanctum. Keith Haring’s towering stick figures in primary colors doubled as an impressive stage set—very Nickelodeon, though a tad intimidating in the darkened space. David Rimanelli, it turns out, was judging, along with Paper's Carlo McCormick (both sipping Stellas between takes), artist Ryan McGinness, Deb Singer, and sundry others. Rimanelli summed up the task of paring down over 350 applicants to a mere nine: There were the “kids who get it and the kids who don't get it” and older applicants who represented what he termed “the other art world—the one we don't care about.” One “crotchety old man” became indignant with the selection process, demanding, “Did you even get my name?” before getting nixed.

McCormick, commenting wryly on the legal side of the business, described the registration for the show as “sign[ing] away their visual rights, their souls, all the things you sign away to become an art star.” This was tongue-in-cheek, but there were some reservations among the applicants. Hardy had begun to get cold feet on Monday night, afraid that a negative portrayal on film could affect her career. Indeed, the sometimes-competing concerns and agendas of the various parties were, as Fuentes described it, “causing some degree of turmoil”—not surprising when the goals of a single venture include curating an interesting exhibition, making watchable (and salable) television, and—oh yeah—providing a platform for emerging artists.

The next morning, bright and early, our ever-considerate intern called to apologetically let me know that he wouldn’t be coming into the office. He had made the cast! I can't disclose his name (or those of his eight cohorts) because of the show's confidentiality agreement, but if Artstar “goes to series,” watch out for one platinum-haired intern-turned-television personality. And after that, who knows? From Artforum masthead to Artforum headline? We’ll be rooting for you, intern!