Exhibit of the week Abdi Farah: Work of Art

The Brooklyn Museum is showing the work of 22-year-old Abdi Farah, winner of the TV reality show, Bravo’s Work of Art: The Next Great Artist.

Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Through Oct. 17

Generally, a critic shouldn’t “hammer a disappointing first show by a newbie artist,” said R.C. Baker in The Village Voice. Few artists, though, receive their first show at a major institution like the Brooklyn Museum, or benefit from the promotion of a cable TV reality show—in this case, Bravo’s Work of Art: The Next Great Artist. That summer series—an absurd experiment in competitive art-making—consisted of “capriciously judged elimination rounds among contestants who seemed chosen as much for personality quirks as for talent.” The winner, a young artist named Abdi Farah, received $100,000 and the opportunity to mount this exhibition. “You can’t blame a 22-year-old for lunging at the brass ring.” But his art is surely some of the least accomplished ever shown at the Brooklyn. Farah’s prominence is a fulfillment of Andy Warhol’s claim that “in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” Yet Farah’s famous for the wrong reasons.

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Temperamentally, Farah and his fellow contestants—earnestly striving for critical plaudits—were as far from Warhol’s cool irony as can be, said Karen Rosenberg in The New York Times. Aesthetically, too, the winning art was disappointingly old-fashioned. “Farah’s cast resin sculptures of fallen men have energy and a kind of grace.” But they’re similar to well-known works by Eric Fischl, and the gimmicky decision to dress them up like basketball players suggests that “the artist doesn’t trust his own ability to make gesture convey meaning.” About the only good thing that can be said about this work is that “it looked much better on television.”

Farah deserves a bit more credit than that, said Andrew M. Goldstein in Artinfo.com. With his drawings, in particular, the artist “demonstrates a sure hand and elegant draftsmanship, as well as a sensitive use of materials.” Baptism, a self-portrait in charcoal and dirt, created during a single episode of Work of Art, is “the best piece in the show.” Still, he needed more time to develop these works before thrusting them upon the public. Rather than revealing “the next great artist,” this exhibition merely introduces us to “a still-evolving talent with his mind on big themes that haven’t quite found their expression in his art.”

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