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School of Saatchi - BBC2
by David Yu

School of Saatchi BBC2

Mondays at 21:00

Also available on the BBC iPlayer

The third episode of the School of Saatchi airs tonight on BBC2. If this episode follows the same formula as the last two then the viewing public are in for a cringing, slow moving, clichéd, train wreck of a tv program. The show follows formula with any other contest styled reality television show – an audition period where a shortlist is derived that turns into several intense weeks of showing skill, talent and professionalism, culminating in an ultimate winner otherwise know as the most talented _________ in the world (or at least till next season).

The interesting thing about this reality tv show is the awkward link to the art world. A friend of mine said it best, “Art just doesn’t make for good television”. This show falls short simply by attempting to follow suit with other popular culture shows such as the X-Factor and The Apprentice. Contemporary art is a specialist market; though anyone can appreciate it and is encouraged to participate, you cannot escape the fact that it is elitist. If the BBC were trying to make a reality tv contest out of finding the best academic physicist, it would just make for bad viewing since half of the audience wouldn’t have a clue why one thing or another is significant.

On School of Saatchi, half of the program is spent educating the masses on why certain artists are “making” work in certain ways; i.e. Eugenie’s link to Duchampian ready-mades, which almost made my eyes roll out of my head. The other half of the show consists of the (un)lucky artists having to create under order fulfilling some sort of art challenge. The challenge for episode two consisted of a public art challenge where the artists needed to work in pairs to create a piece of work for the sea side town of Hastings. The resulting works are judged by a panel (Tracey Emin, Matthew Collings, Frank Cohen), the viewing public, and finally Saatchi himself, giving his final feedback to the artists via Rebecca Wilson. The judging itself is quite entertaining. Though a lot of the conversations uses the same critique language heard time and time again, it is refreshing listening to how art professionals react to art-school-level work.

This has not been the first time that contemporary art has made it to prime time television. In 2006 “Art Star” launched itself as the first  contemporary art oriented reality tv show. It documented eight artists working towards a group exhibition to be held at Deitch Projects space in New York. The last episode shows the opening of the group show. Unlike School of Saatchi, Art Star was more an art documentary than a full-out reality tv contest. You can see the obvious differences between the two styles of shows with just the set up of activities that the artists particiate in. At the end of the School of Saatchi one artist walks away with a three-year studio and a major group exhibition at the Hermitage Museum. I suppose from that .... not all is a loss for everyone.

-- David Yu


Posted by David Yu on 12/6/09

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