Seven Questions for Work of Art Judge Bill Powers

Bill Powers purchased his first work of art—a Terry Richardson photo of “ToeJam the Clown”—in 1998, shortly after taking the editorial helm of Blackbook. Since then, he’s built an art collection that includes works by Richard Prince, Elizabeth Peyton, Dana Schutz, and Irving Penn; opened New York’s Half Gallery with partners Andy Spade and James Frey; and co-founded Exhibition A, the online art hub that offers affordable editions by some of the big names on Powers’ own walls. Tonight he is back on Bravo to dispense more good-natured yet constructive criticism on the cable network’s Work of Art: The Next Great Artist. So which of the new contestants should we keep an eye out for? “We’ve got Michelle, who has worked for Marilyn Minter and had also been an assistant to Josephine Meckseper. It’s interesting to see someone with that background,” he says. “Or Kathryn, who went to Yale grad school for photography, versus a toymaker, The Sucklord. I think it really is a nice spectrum.” We chatted with Powers about the reaction to Work of Art, the judging process, and what’s in store for the new season (KAWS!).

1. How would you characterize the reaction—particularly that of the art world—to the first season of Work of Art?
I understand people’s skepticism. I mean, it is reality TV, right? Personally, I was really flattered at how many contemporary artists I admire watched the first season, whether it’s Cecily Brown or Rob Pruitt or Jeff Koons or Rachel Feinstein. That meant a lot to me that those people would watch and get into it. People said that the show reminded them a lot of grad school and that a lot of the personalities and the work that was produced was reminiscient of that. There’s always somebody getting naked. There’s always somebody tackling social issues. And there’s a photographer, who’s probably better suited to commercial photography, making fine art pictures.

2. Are there certain aspects of season two that you think will surprise people?
I was always surprised by the range of materials employed, and what somebody can make in four or five hours is pretty impressive. And I would ask viewers to remember that it’s a lot of pressure to say, “OK, here’s the theme of the show this week, now make something and we’re going to show it tomorrow as if we’re picking people for the next Venice Biennale.” I feel like people at home or on blogs sometimes can be looking at this work as if someone had a year in their studio to make it. They have five or six hours sometimes to make what you’re seeing. I know that’s part of being a part of a competition series, but to see something that you like and that someone made in a few hours? Most working artists today spend weeks if not months putting together a piece. I think that people are, if I can borrow a term from Jerry [Saltz], “demonstrating radical vulnerability” by their participation on the show.

3. The first season featured a great line-up of guest judges, such as Andres Serrano and Michele Oka Doner. Who can we expect to see this season?
Adam McEwen is going to be on a challenge. He was fantastic to have on the show. Also, KAWS. Mary Ellen Mark is the guest judge on the first episode. I think she just shot Tony Bennett for The New Yorker a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve always loved her Ward 81 or Falkland Road. I think it’s a nice mix to have some photographers, painters, more conceptual artists. To have KAWS on there, who has also dabbled in the toy world, I thought was interesting, juxtaposed with the The Sucklord as an artist competing on the show.