Ken Tucker
December 08, 2011 AT 06:25 AM EST

“It’s time to sell out,” host China Chow told the remaining six artists on this week’s Work of Art. Of course, some would say they sold out when they signed on to Work of Art. But what sounded like a banal idea — exploring, as Simon de Pury said, the “art versus commerce” conundrum by having the contestants make art, sell it on the street, and then display it in the gallery ended up with one of this series’ livelier episodes.

The sextet had five hours to create art, then zoom down to a park in Tribeca to hawk their wares. Or their underwears: Young painted some underpants and modeled them as well (“My boyfriend loves my butt; it’s petite and round and pert”); I find it hard to believe that he didn’t choke saying, “It’s a cheeky product.” Doing without underwear at all was — who else? — Lola, who photographed herself nude and then wrote a different text, each revealing “secrets” about her, across prints of her image.

“I don’t particularly want to get naked,” Lola said to the camera while trying to keep a straight face and her clothes on. “But I would do almost anything to win the challenge.” Certainly she was willing to do a helluva a lot more than Dusty, who stenciled t-shirts with a United States map containing a too-vague image of a surveillance camera. Get it? You’re being watched! Poor Sarah, partnered with Lola, tried to echo Lola’s sexy-times theme, but ended up making construction-paper headdresses and painting a cartoonish outline of her breasts on some t-shirts.

The actual selling of the works of art was fun to watch, in the same way it can be fun to watch hapless contestants try to sell things quickly in an episode of The Apprentice. But instead of Donald Trump, we had Simon, going all googly-eyed at Lola’s nekkid prints and saying he was having a “hard time concentrating” on the text printed over her naughty bits.

Of all the remaining artists, I continue to be most intrigued by Sara, whose drawing style — spidery lines that can render both abstraction and realism (she chose to sell some people-on-the-street portraits, with nice washes of watercolor for added dash) — is consistently alluring. Her portraits also charmed the judges, as did the product made by irritating worrywart/poor-sport Kymia, whose minimalist notion to display signatures citizens gave her in exchange for hers — I understand why the judges liked the almost elegant simplicity, but it was dull to look at as television.

The way this hour was edited, I was sure Dusty would be heading home — when a reality competition show gives you a scene of someone making a teary phone call home to a loved one, as Dusty did this night, he or she is usually marked for elimination. I also thought Dusty was a goner during the “crit” when judge Jerry Saltz said he knew why Dusty’s surveillance map wasn’t a success: “Because it’s awful!” (That Jerry, he’s doing a lot more act-ing this season!)  But, nope, Sarah and her headdresses got the boot. Too bad: Sarah was a much more energetic personality than Dusty. The team of Young and Sara won ($30,000 and non-elimination), but the real TV-world winner was Lola, who has established herself as the quirky-sexy-goofy artist who’ll do anything to spark a little drama in this lumpy, uneven season of Work of Art.

Twitter: @kentucker

Work of Art

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