'Work of Art: The Next Great Artist' recap: Enter the Sucklord

Finally, the second season of Work of Art: The Next Great Artist has arrived on Bravo, and with it, the Sucklord. Work of Art must have thought it died and went to heaven when this guy strolled in, disfiguring stormtrooper dolls and calling it art. The Sucklord — real name: Morgan Phillips — is a 42-year-old artist/huckster in the tradition of Jeff Koons who looks a bit like Jimmy Fallon doing an impersonation of a gelled twit. With this guy around, everyone becomes an inadvertent comedian. When another contestant, Michelle, said in the opening moments, “I don’t want to be the one who sucks” — well, Lordy, supply your own just-look-to-your-right punchline.

The first challenge of the season was to take a piece of kitschy, garage-sale amateur art and “transform it into something that has your own style in it.” This was a poor choice to start off the series, since it actually raised more art questions than it asked. Work of Art invited us to sneer at an array of sentimental sculptures and near-outsider-art paintings as, as various contestants said, “junk” or “garbage.” Only (wouldn’t you know it) the Sucklord appreciated this stuff on its own terms — as expressions of genuine passion on the part of untalented but sincere artists. Or as the Sucklord said of his choice, a garish painting of The Lord of the Rings‘ Gandalf, “This picture is already perfect.” And it was, on its own stunted terms.

We were able to get a fix on some of the 14 artists on the basis of a combination of the challenge, the show’s introductory filmed bios, and the artists’ catty comments about one another. For instance:

• Jazz-Minh was raised on a “hippie commune” and is therefore pegged as a ditzy free spirit; beware of countercultural stereotypes.

• Bayete chose a painting of Scarlett O’Hara and chose to make an African-American mirror image of the Southern belle; he glued dollar bills around the canvas and tried to pass it off as an example of “cultural hybridity.”

• Lola is “this sprightly sexpot,” said one opponent. In other words, this season’s Jaclyn Santos. They wish.

• Kathryn, who in her own time makes three-dimensional gush that looks like bloody cow intestines — excuse me, “visceral tableaux out of dough and jelly.”

• Tewz, the “street artist” seen spray-painting graffiti and groaning “I don’t really, like, do sculpture,” which is this show’s version of Top Chef’s “I don’t do desserts” — i.e., the what-the-hell-are-you-thinking-of-course-you’re-going-to-be-asked-to-make-some-sculpture-wise-up-jerk-and-come-prepared contestant.

• Michelle, who came on all gee-golly but demonstrated some serious paper-cutting-and-pasting chops in her intricate, sophisticated audition-tape work.

• Dusty, an Arkansas elementary-school art teacher who made a very cute self-portrait out of raised Crayola crayons to qualify for this show. I was gravely disappointed that Dusty chose as his kitsch piece a paint-by-numbers portrait of a clown that was clearly the comedian Ed Wynn, but not one person on Work of Art knew enough to point this out.

• Leon, who, I’m sorry, but given the way he was presented, will, until he distinguishes himself more, inevitably be referred to initially as the deaf artist with the interpreter.

• Ugo, the French guy who’s very good-looking but who forgot to put an H in the front of his name.

• The Sucklord explained both his choice of objet de schlock (“The Lord of the Rings is sort of a religious text for me”) and his name: “the suckiness, which is my self-deprecating, misanthropic side, and the lord, which is my megalomaniacal, self-aggrandizing side.” His biggest surprise: Some of his work has been bought and auctioned off by Work of Art “mentor” Simon de Pury. The guy’s legit. Or as legit as you need to be to live in New York City and get Simon to simper over your work.

Whoever I left out hasn’t made an impression yet.

During the final “crit” session, we were reintroduced to the judging panel of hostess-with-the-mostest China Chow, New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz, and Bill Powers; the guest judge was the photographer Mary Ellen Mark.

The judges were quick to decide whose piece they liked best. Michelle’s The Eternal Woodsman had a witty delicacy that contrasted nicely with the stolid piece of kitsch she personalized and “transformed.” It was a worthy winner.

In the bottom three were Ugo, Bayete, and the Sucklord. Everyone from the contestants to the judges had been dismissing Ugo’s painted drawing as too similar to work by Keith Haring. Nobody was buying Bayete’s racially charged but slapdash mess as “complex” (“Just because the topic is complex doesn’t mean your piece is complex,” sneered Powers). And the Sucklord did not help himself (but completely won me over) by responding to Saltz’s simple question about what was original about his work by answering, “Wow, you really got me there. I think I might die here.”

But as cute as he is, Ugo was dismissed from Work of Art. Personally, I thought Bayete’s piece was a tad more banal. And the way the hour was edited, the Sucklord received a greater degree of vehement criticism for his lack of originality. But Mary Ellen Mark said with equal force that the modified Gandalf “spoke” to her. (What did it say? “Look at me.”)

And thus the Sucklord was permitted to coin his own catchphrase in bidding adieu to Ugo — “It sucks for all of us” — and add with casual menace, “I’m a super-villain and better him than me.”

Is it, though? What did you think of Work of Art‘s season premiere? And where do you stand on the Sucklord: Lord of the Zings, or Trying Too Hard?

Twitter: @kentucker

Comments (87 total) Add your comment
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  • FloridaTom

    I loved the ep. I like the sucklord, if for no other reason than that, for all I can see, he is the lord of all that sucks. But he sucks in an interesting way. As a photographer, I found Kathryn’s work interesting, for no other reason than that she transformed something really crappy into something wierdly abstract. Michelle’s piece was, in my opinion, the best. Bayete’s piece was too juvenile, to me. It was far worse than that of he who sucks.

    • quan

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  • Kathy

    I thought Bayete should have gone home. He didn’t listen to Simon, his piece was blatant and obvious, and the judges obviously were disappointed in it. Frankly, I was surprised when Ugo was sent packing. Michelle’s work was great, and I think deserving of the win. Oh, and cow intestine girl can go home anytime!

    • ZigZagZoey

      I thought he should have too! His was HORRIBLE! Out of the bottom 3, which one would you never in a million years put on display in your house? His, by far! Plus, the hair looked like pubic hair!

      • Roger

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    • Melly

      ITA about the cow intestine girl. She has a really ugly cry in the next episode and I am not looking forward to seeing that.

    • darclyte

      I agree that Bayete’s piece should have gotten him the boot, but I can live with Ugo going. I liked Katryn’s but she seems “stuck” in one phase, I wonder if she can get out of it. From the season promo where she’s balling like they just told her her kid died, I kinda doubt it. Did anyone else think that Young Sun looks like the Asian version of McLovin from Superbad?

      • Dez

        Yes, in fact, that’s how I found this comment.

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    • Simone

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  • Nick

    I had the same such feelings about this challenge. I found it so disappointing that no one used their piece to highlight the gross condescension in the distinguishing between a high art and a kitsch. I believe Bayete even used air quotations when calling the starting pieces art. While Sucklord expressed genuine affection and an understanding of his piece sadly he was unable to translate. Perhaps many of them didn’t feel like swinging an ax so close to this soapbox they were just given. Well, whatever the case I kept wishing someone would drag Mudd back out from the bathroom but alas, he never showed.

  • SK

    After watching the gem that was the first episode of “Can’t Get a Date” years ago, i don’t think “trying too hard” and “Morgan” can go in the same sentence. Just ask the jar of urine that probably still exists somewhere at his ma’s.

    • Grace

      Thank you! THAT”S where I’ve seen him before. I was almost convinced that I had actually known him personally.

  • Buffy Freak

    I have a feeling pretty much anyone who has ever come into contact with him probably calls The Sucklord by a different name…EW won’t let me type it here without censoring it but it starts a D and ends with bag….

    I like the process of this the show but why must so many of the contestants be so prententious?

    • Here & There

      They want pretentious. They want drama. They want characters…not great, or even good artists. So many really good artists are turned down and don’t even make the first cut at the auditions. They’re wanting diversity but with some stupidity from their characters.

      • Buffy Freak

        Yeah they’ve takena a page from Project Runway. I’d rather see great designs or art than stupid, prententious people squabble or have breakdowns….

      • Sugar

        ITA. This show has nothing to do with real art. And the judges are just as pretentious and narrcissic as the contstants.Maybe more, because they are older and you would think they would have caught on enough to be over themselves by now.

    • Jonny ClockWorks

      Actually, I worked with Morgan back in the day. He has always been himself. He is the real deal, love him or hate him. Hopefully his honesty will deflate the pretension of this series at every turn. ~Jonny ClockWorks http://www.cosmicbicycle.com

    • Jorge

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  • Harkonen

    Sooooo glad The Sucklord dodged the bullet last night. Happy the show has finally returned and to have The Sucklord AND a street artist on, WOW! It makes an otherwise crowed wednesday night even more packed with televised goodness. Just glad Work of Art and American Horror Story aren’t on at the same time, cause I’d be hard pressed to choose. Go Sucklord I want to see you stay in all season dude!

    • Lil

      I agree! I love this show and can’t wait for next Wednesday night. Only question I have is why are all the good shows on at the same time?? There are 6 other nights of the week.

      • Melly

        Agreed. Weds and Thurs are tough nights to balance out the TV show watching love. Too many DVR conflicts.

  • dharma

    I did not like Bayete’s piece and agree that he should have gone home. Sucklord brings a raw honesty to the show which I appreciate and I look forward to seeing what else he will bring to the table.

  • Sylvia T. Clark

    Finally a program that invites the veiwer to learn something.I love this show. Get rid of the Housewives of whereever…they really SUCK!

  • thad

    Sucklord should have been bounced

  • yup

    It was fine that Ugo went home. He basically does the same Keith Haring-like picture over and over. Bayete’s piece was to obvious. If you’re going to tackle the subject of race, you need to do it in an original and interesting way. Unfortunately he doesn’t take criticism well. The Sucklord(????) can make nice figurines for Kid Robot, but he’s not the kind of artist that fits with this show. I would have been fine with all three of them leaving.

    • yup

      *too*

    • Melly

      Yeah, but Ugo was damn FINE. He should have been kept around a little longer just for that.

      • Bobby’s Robot

        @ Melly – Agreed!

  • Mincha

    I’m already sick of The Sucklord, so I know he’ll be around forever. There’s an interesting mix of personalities and styles, but I just don’t know if the second season will be as good as the first. This was definitely a disappointing first challenge for me. Maybe it should have been the second or third.

  • Kat

    I was disappointed by the group they have this year. While most of them seem talented, they also mostly seemed like prententious stepford artists. Artists come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Where’s this year’s Judith, who was 61. Or someone like Project Runway’s Bert? Everyone seems to be thin and chic and much of the initial work blends together as unmemorable in my mind. I do like Kathryn’s twisted blood and guts art, and the Sucklord certainly had the most personality, but too many of them look like models. I did like winner Michelle’s drawing, but the other two next to her blend in my mind and I can’t remember either one or their art. As for the loser, when I saw he was up against The Sucklord and Bayete, who’s the only black contestant I can remember, I knew Ugo was going home. I certainly think Ugo’s art was more interesting than some of the others and he could have been this season’s Fabio (Top Chef) on WoA. I’m sure some of the artists and art will stand out more over time, but I wish Bravo would open up their minds when it comes to casting.

    • @kat

      What does Bayete’s race have to do with it? On the first season, the first eliminated contestant was a black woman. Ugo’s work was too much like Keith Haring’s. In the art world copying is probably a greater sin than any the Sucklord and Bayete committed.

      • butts

        the greatest sin in the art world is being boring

      • Riya

        Lillian Posted on I like using the swear words that make me uncomfortable in bed. Now I’ve got my pretnar swearing up a storm too. LOL. He pretty much never, ever swears outside of this context, so it comes off as extra-filthy. *smit*

    • Harkonen

      Exactly one of my thoughts, where are the older artists? I agree, seems like damn near all of the contestants are around the same age this time. Not cool. Go Suuuucckkk Lord, you are Lord of all suckage!

    • Marie

      Actually the Sucklord is 42- in the world of reality TV that is old.

  • Gin

    Where is LOL?
    Because if America Loves Crap, this show should easy top the list.

  • Ruth

    I found the Sucklord endearing perhaps because he’s so talky. I don’t believe the “character” stuff on reality shows because it’s so edited. I like to see the work and I like hearing what the judges say because I have no idea how to see modern pieces.

  • KAnderson

    Awe shucks Ken, I guess this means EW is not recapping this show this season. Bummer! I wish someone at EW would monitor the comments and make decisions of recapping based on that because your missing out on this, ANTM and TC Desserts.

    • Ken Tucker

      Huh? This IS a recap, and I’ll continue to do ‘em. Thanks for reading, Ken

      • Melly

        I wish that you would go back to recapping Fringe. We miss you!

      • Mo

        Yay, I’ll be looking forward to them every week. And count me in with those who miss your Fringe recaps…

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