Ken Tucker
July 22, 2010 AT 04:24 AM EDT

This week’s Work of Art: The Next Great Artist began rather frighteningly. The show’s mentor/Swiss popinjay, Simon de Pury, told the contestants that they were going down to SoHo and was greeted with blank stares. “I didn’t know where we were going,” Miles confided to us, which means that unless he’s a victim of bad editing, he had no idea that the area is full of art galleries, and, as Simon explained, as though to a group of children, artists such as “Basquiat and Warhol” worked in that vicinity.

Speaking of children, they inspired the challenge: Taking the artists to the Children’s Museum of the Arts, their task was to create something that conveyed “the experiences that made you an artist.” The result was a weirdly disjointed episode with inexplicable decisions on a number of levels.

Some of the contestants, surrounded by kids’ art supplies as their only materials, dug an inch or two down into the subconscious and chose to approximate the kind of art they made as children. Thus Ryan started drawing with the hand he doesn’t usually use for art-making, resulting in scrawled figures and some crumpled pictures he left on the floor in front of his drawings: Voila, an installation! Mark made a children’s book that doubled as an autobiography. Abdi made sketches of items he drew as a kid, one to a page (Spider-Man, a Nike swoosh, a circle… ). Miles — well, Miles being Miles, he made something that one of his colleagues noted looked like a crossword puzzle grid, announced that the assignment made him want to “throw up and sneeze at the same time,” then said blithely that it had nothing to do with his childhood, and wandered off-camera, doubtless to have a little lie-down nappy-time.

Two artists revealed interesting childhood backgrounds. Nicole has a twin sister; their dad encouraged their art, but it sounded as though he was withholding and perhaps cold. Peregrine wins the prize for Best Childhood Story, though: Raised in a San Francisco hippie commune — one called Project Artaud, no less. (A childhood spent in an atmosphere inspired by the creator of the Theater of Cruelty; how sweet!)

Who am I forgetting? Oh, right: Jaclyn, who of course was flummoxed by this week’s assignment because her breasts hadn’t developed when she was a child, so she couldn’t think of anything to make. (Hey, that’s not sexist, that’s Jaclyn — in the coming attractions for next week, she’s shown going back to her old tricks, recreating a “private sexual act.”)

Jaclyn followed her instincts, which are to make a few false starts and then take the suggestions of anyone who’s talking to her. In this case, Simon was lukewarm about her initial smooshed-paint thingees, but noticed she’d been playing around with pipe-cleaners earlier, which seemed to him more interesting. Bingo: Jaclyn painted a tree and dangled some pipe-cleaners from it.

The baffling judges’ results? (By the way, the guest judge this week was artist Will Cotton, who designed Katy Perry’s forthcoming album art.) Miles was immediately declared “safe” even though his art had nothing to do with the assignment. Abdi, who I thought made some nice, simple, precise, nostalgic drawings somewhat in the manner of Joe Brainard, was criticized harshly for reasons of general banality and narrowly escaped eviction.

I could understand why Peregrine won: Her cleverly made outsized toy cigarettes and lollypops, contrasted with drug vials and other grown-up paraphernalia, did reflect her alternative-lifestyle upbringing. But I was very sorry to see Ryan leave, since despite the fact that his art was lousy week after week, he was the series’ most reliable laugh-getter. As when he said this night that he’d come to a simple realization: “Miles is kind of like this big douchebag.”

I was generally frustrated with this week’s Work of Art, by the decisions both the artists and the judges made, and in the hour’s production values: Nicole made this interesting-looking, layered, three-dimensional piece; couldn’t the show’s cameras have zoomed in more closely to let us see what the hell the judges were praising?

What did you think of Work of Art this week?

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