Reality Bites

New York

Left: The Museum of the Moving Image audience. Right: Impresario Jeffrey Deitch. (Photos: Brian Palmer)

“When I first started out in the art world in the ’70s, the whole idea of a self-respecting artist waiting in line to be in a TV show would have been ridiculous,” asserts Jeffrey Deitch in the opening minutes of the first episode of Artstar, Deitch Projects and VOOM HD Networks’ reality television series set in the New York art world. Previewing at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, the hour-long episode follows the selection of eight would-be luminaries from a motley crew of over 400 hopefuls who showed up at Deitch’s Wooster Street Gallery last winter for an open call. The show’s editors seized, predictably, on the oddest of the oddballs (a middle-age automatic painter producing works in seizured fits while standing in line, a cringe-inducing nerdy freestyle rapper, a giant talking foam head straight out of the Bread and Puppet Theater), set to a soundtrack of judge David Rimanelli’s zingers and infused with a healthy dose of eye rolls, smirks, and nonplussed expressions from Deitch, producer James Fuentes, and other invited adjudicators Debra Singer of the Kitchen, Carlo McCormick of Paper magazine, and performance-art historian and curator RoseLee Goldberg. Watching the final cut for the first time, the show’s artists lined up together in the front row, squirming alternately in pain and pleasure at their shared public debut.

The Museum’s Deputy Director, one of those overzealous MCs whose needlessly exhaustive summaries and self-aggrandizing remarks turn Q & As into one-man shows, dominated the post-screening discussion. The participating artists mostly resisted the impulse to dish the “dirt.” “This is not Survivor,” warned sculptor Sy Colen. “There were no enemies developed in the process. We all learned from each other.” (Witnessing Colen’s education first-hand, I overheard painter and former club kid Christian Dietkis explaining the rave-culture significance of pacifiers to the sixty-eight-year-old sculptor.) “I felt like I got the experience of my son who went to RISD,” Colen mused. “He got four years; I got four weeks.” Indeed, the series’ plot devices sound more “art school” than “art star”: an “art parade,” Coney-Island-sign-painting lessons, and, apparently, a whole lot of dressing up.

Left: Artstar participant Bec Stupak with artist Malcolm Stuart. (Photo: Michael Wang) Right: Artstar participant Anney “Fresh” McKilligan. (Photo: Brian Palmer)

Dread-headed video artist Bec Stupak described her interest in hair and makeup (“in ugliness”) and mentioned that several of the artists involved experimented with “personas.” “It was totally self-aware,” remarked Dietkus. Working out of a gutted space in the AT&T building downtown on Lispenard Street, the artists mostly chose to work on month-long projects over the course of filming, though Dietkus dismissed the studio as “too dusty,” which put a moratorium on work during filming. Skeptical of Artstar’s collaborative angle, Dietkus also alluded to a “premeditated” show “winner.” (The show struggles with the idea of competition, eschewing what producer Abby Terkhule calls “the elimination route” while banking on the adrenaline of the “competitive New York art scene.”) The solo show at Deitch Projects (always a possibility within Artstar’s premise) went to Stupak, with whom the gallery had a prior relationship through her work with Assume Vivid Astro Focus. Since the show, her art world connections have grown exponentially.

With Artstar accessible only to HD satellite owners and, throughout the summer, visitors to the museum, there aren’t going to be a whole lot of home viewers in the city, but the show will be accessible to a smattering of dish owners (on Gallery HD) across the country. After this rather limited release, Deitch disclosed, the show will likely be pushed to broadband networks, and they’re already looking into podcasting. “With what we’re doing on the inside of the New York art world, it’s a lively day if one hundred people come into the gallery. But with a big international audience, our website can get 100,000 hits.” Deitch has already attracted interest from an Asian television company, where they might launch a version of Artstar “in collaboration with a gallery there.” Hanging out amidst the museum’s collections of zombie masks and werewolf skins at the post-screening reception, Stupak and partner Malcolm Stuart (who described himself as “the boyfriend” in a snarky acknowledgement of his newfound television role) seemed giddy with Artstar’s possibilities. “If it can be TV, let it be TV,” Stuart entreated. “The phobia of being a sellout has become passé.”

Left: Artstar participant Christian Dietkus. (Photo: Michael Wang) Right: Artstar participant Abigail DeVille. (Photo: Brian Palmer)