The tryouts are being held at the vacant old Carson Pirie Scott Building on State Street. They put notices in the Repeater and Facebook and Twitter. All of Orso’s young helpers are excited. They daydream about what they’d do with the $10,000 prize money. How a museum show will launch their careers. Assure them a spot in the history books. One day, some kid will fall asleep during their art history survey lecture as the lucky winner’s slide fills the auditorium’s gigantic screen.
The big man rolls back in from lunch and as soon as he catches wind of what they’re talking about he blows his stack. Bellows about how art isn’t sports. That you can’t win at art the way you can at football. Tells them in no uncertain terms that if he finds out one of them auditioned, they can pack their bags. Their names will be mud at the Honeypot.
Piece of Work is a reality show from one of the stars of a popular sitcom. The tiny one with the giant head. I didn’t know about that until sharing an elevator with her and her children one time at the museum. Something about the lenses in cameras distort human proportions like funhouse mirrors. I noticed a similar effect when I worked at the art supply store. There was a modeling agency next door. Those girls looked like giraffes out in meatspace, away from the glossy pages of Cosmo and Glamour.
The premise is Survivor/Bachelorette in the art world. Ten contestants live in a fancy sprawling apartment—donated by a posh realty, which is one of production’s underwriters—and are put through a series of trials and challenges, when not badly performing the conflicts the non-union writer’s room cobbles together for them. Each episode prominently features brands that partner with shows like this to right the karmic balance the way warmongers lend their names to hospital wards and opera houses. Synergy abounds.
Orso’s upset because he thinks he’s got integrity. He takes courageous stands against the sellouts and opportunists. Built his fame by charting an uncompromising course through the hinterlands of storefront and apartment galleries, en route to the blue chip climes of auction houses and museums. He suffered no fools and stuck up for fellow artists he felt were taken advantage of by gate-keepers.
This is the mantra he pounds into the malleable craniums of each child-helper who darkens the Honeypot’s doorstep. Each one of the current crop know his spiel by heart. They recite it in his voice while blowing off steam at the bar. They bitch about how controlling he is, but don’t dare to contradict him or call him out for the ways he bullies them. Maybe they see this dumb reality show as a way out of Orso’s art bootcamp.
If any of them sneak off and try out, no one hears about it, or maybe, the ones who braved it didn’t make it past the preliminary rounds, and thus were not shown on air. I know for a fact the big lug watches the show. I’ve been to his house and laughed as he yelled at his flatscreen while the contestants competed in “street art”, “collage”, and “4-D” challenges. It’s ludicrous but we can’t look away. The art racket isn’t portrayed much on TV because it’s a relic of a different century. For the most part, it’s now the domain of outcasts and money launderers. Not typical reality show fare. So anyone who’s ever carried a sketchbook around will tune in because few can resist watching a version of themselves on screen. If there was a CPA challenge show, every accountant worldwide would watch.
Orso makes me swear I won’t let any of the kids know. Is he just mad because he wasn’t chosen as one of the judge/experts? Remember, this is the guy who measures the walls of any museum he enters to imagine how his pieces will look there.
He wants to wager on who will win. His money’s on the Native former lumberjack who chainsaws wildlife sculpture from dead tree trunks uprooted after a gas pipeline was cut through his family’s ancestral land. He cheers when his guy fails to comprehend an effete critic’s artspeak objections to his latest creation. Orso nearly jumps up from his La-Z-Boy, before thinking better of it. He wants the lumberjack to give the critic a swirly. This from the man who had his Art Forum review blown up and prominently displayed in a gilded frame in his living room.
When his lumberjack loses out to a near-mute Goth girl who painstakingly reenacts scenes from her childhood via videos shot on an outmoded camcorder, Orso explodes. He throws the remains of his Italian Beef at the TV, then lumbers out of his throne and outside to smoke. He keeps promising his wife and his doctor he’s quit, but there are instances of injustice that can only be assuaged by what he insists on calling ‘smoky treats’.