Work of Art Holds Its Season Finale at the Brooklyn Museum

Elizabeth Thompson

"I saw their stuff and was like, 'well, at least I got make it to the finals'," Work of Art's Abdi Farah told us of his certainty that he had lost Bravo's debut art competition show, which had its season finale last night. Farah, however, beat out competitors Miles Mendenhall and Peregrine Honig in an upset win. A finale screening party was held at the Brooklyn Museum, where Farah will have a show up for two months beginning this Saturday as part of his prize. Most of the show's cast and panel of judges including Jerry Saltz, Bill Powers, Simon De Pury and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn were in attendance, as was producer Sarah Jessica Parker, Bravo honcho Andy Cohen, and artists Richard Phillips, Andres Serrano and Will Cotton, who all appeared as guest judges on the show. Steve Coogan, who is the boyfriend of the show's host, China Chow, milled around as did Real Housewives of New York's Countess Luann deLesseps, who is the aunt of Work of Art's Nicole Nadeau.

Though most of the room, which included Bravo employees as well as friends and family of the contestants, likely already knew who the winner was, the crowd broke into applause and cheers when Farah was announced as the winner. Despite months having passed since the finale taped, Farah, who also won $100,000, still seemed stunned that David LaChapelle, who was the finale's guest judge, chose him as the winner. "I couldn't stop thinking 'Oh my God, you are super-duper famous. Everyone in the world knows who you are and you like my work?" Farah said of LaChapelle, who was moved to tears by Farah's pieces. "The words he said to me, I'll forever cherish."  Farah's mother Donna Stewart seemed less surprised her son, who she said began showing an interest in drawing as early as two, had won. "I hope that people understand how much work making art is, how long and hard the process is," Stewart said. "People want to be famous and will do anything to be famous and that's not why Abdi's here. He's here because it's the next natural step for him."

We chatted with some of the show's contestants and judges about how they were portrayed on the show, critical reponse and what they're up to now.

Were you happy with how you were portrayed?

Nicole Nadeau: "It was funny, as I watched I kept thinking 'I really like that girl!' It wasn't really me -- it was a projection of myself. I almost forgot the cameras were there, probably to a fault,. but the editors were also very nice to me. I was was like, 'Score!'"

Abdi Farah: "I know some of my cast mates aren't as happy, but I now have a huge respect for anyone who works on a reality television show. It's an unenviable task to take all of that footage and shape it into something that's entertaining but reflective of its subjects."

Do people recognize you on the street now?

Jaclyn Santos
: "Not a lot of New Yorkers watch TV. I didn't watch that much television prior to this. I watched Sex and the City and now I like Jersey Shore. It makes me feel better about things -- at least we're not Jersey Shore, at least I'm not Snooki. But, you know, then you Google 'Jersey Shore' and she gets seven million results and I get 26,000. But it's great to be able to build an audience and share my work with the world."

Bill Powers: "There were some art kids at the bank who recognized me. Most people just think they went to high school with me. This guy came up to me and was like, 'Do you play a gallery owner on TV?' and I was like, 'Yes. That's exactly right.'"

What do you think about the criticism the show has received?

Abdi Farah: "I think three years from now, people are going to realize how groundbreaking this show was. Now there are all of the haters out there, and there are the people who say 'You can't make art in two days! You can't have artists together in one space!' We were making things that we were forced to explore -- stuff that we would have avoided in our own studios and would have never approached. Maybe it would have happened on our own time, maybe our work might have improved incrementally, but, on the show, it was like art on steroids."

Peregrine Honig: "I got an email from a 14-year-old boy in Catholic school who was coming out of the closet. He wrote, 'I love art, I don't get to go to many galleries, but I like being able to watch this show, and feel safe. I really relate to your work.' These are the people who are future art collectors and future museum-goers. Even if it's only .01 percent of people who watch this show who end up feeling more confident or more connected to art, then we've done our jobs."

What are you up to now?

Nicole Nadeau: "I have a design collective called KNS. We've been doing sculptural art objects and a bunch of experimental projects."

Jaclyn Santos
: "I had a solo show recently at DFN Gallery. It had a really good response."

Peregrine Honig: "I've been making art about souvenirs. I'm really interested in the idea of souvenir culture -- like the sexual souvenirs in different parts of America --  penis cups and tit mugs. And also wondering what these objects say about us outside of the country. Most of these objects are made in China -- what do people who are making them think about America or perceive Americans based on these products?"

Mark Velasquez:
I'm working on a book about the women in my small town in California. They work at drug stores and have drug habits, real stories and real problems."

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