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One Degree of (TV) Separation: 2018 Pulitzers
April 22, 2018  | By Eric Gould

It’s worth noting that, Jerry Saltz, New York Magazine art critic and just-announced winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for criticism last week, was part of Work of Art, the 2010-11 TV-reality show that brought artists into a weekly competition format – and attempted to raise the bar for that genre.

It’s not news on the level of rapper Kendrick Lamar (also receiving Pulitzer honors this year, and extending their cultural relevancy) but Saltz (top), a veteran of The Village Voice and many art periodicals, has had a long and noteworthy career of bringing high-brow criticism to readers, always with considerable wit and intellect.

He’s made his mark as one of the few critics able to channel the finer points of modern art to larger audiences in conversational tone, usually making the inscrutable accessible.

And entertaining. (He recently argued in a video posted earlier this year in favor of the proposal to declare the border wall prototypes in San Diego as a national minimalist art work.)

Produced by the same team that makes Project Runway, Work of Art was meant to similarly bring the concerns of fine art to reality consumers, opening up the tribulations of creative work, demystifying it all somehow.

Of course, marketing art-making as entertainment also meant, like the other reality genres, by definition it had to be a clique-y, weekly melodrama with faux spats and resentments because, you know, the thing couldn’t possibly be interesting without all the interpersonal schpilkis.

Saltz, a self-admitted middle-aged schlub, took on the role of TV star with tongue firmly implanted in cheek – and held nothing back as he gave contestants direct and often harsh criticism of their work. Presumably, they were all grateful for getting their work in front of one of New York’s best art critics, even if it was in what was essentially a game show format.

Saltz often wrote about the show, recapping it for New York Magazine’s website, Vulture, and while often acknowledging the show’s kitschy nature, he always maintained the seriousness of the contestants and their subject – the world of art, its conceptual concerns, and its cultural missions.

In the end, Work of Art ran for two seasons, lacking the accessibility and relatable subject matter that sister show Project Runway had – fashion.

It also had to make due with Saltz and other unknown art-world celebrities, who did not have the charm and star-power of Runway co-hosts Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn.

But at the time, it was bravo for Bravo Network who was otherwise relying on reality staples like Real Housewives and attempted, so it seemed, to avoid steeping the entire genre in cocktail dresses and catfights to compete with the Kardashians.

Turns out they were right, signing up Saltz for Work of Art.

And the 2018 Pulitzer committee has agreed.

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