Would you believe that Sarah Jessica Parker called up Artnet Magazine to chat? Us neither. But, sure enough, last Thursday found Artnet News chatting it up with the Sex in the City star about matters esthetic.
The occasion, of course, was the upcoming casting call for the contemporary art-themed reality show that Parker is producing for Bravo, currently referred to as "The Untitled Art Project" (a brilliant title, by the way -- though it is only a place-holder, and seems likely to be replaced with something to the effect of "Project Museum Show"). Plenty of mainstream coverage of the series is expected in its later phases, but right now the PR effort is focusing on reaching out to "real artists," i.e. readers of Artnet Magazine, as well as a few other art websites. Questions to SJP could be about the show only, with any and all aspects of her personal life -- the twins! -- strictly off limits.
Rumors of the art show -- co-produced by SJP’s production company, Pretty Matches, with Magical Elves, the brains behind Top Chef -- have been floating around since last year. Early reports raise the image of a competition in which a crop of aspiring art stars are pushed to work "beyond their preferred mediums," with all the drama that comes from watching sculptors try their hand at photography and painters doing industrial design. Thus, the casting notice states that producers are seeking "struggling, emerging or even semi-established" artists, in all media. The application asks would-be contestants to detail their career history and influences, but also seeks the sensationalistic ("What is the most scandalous thing you have done in your life as an artist?") and the vaguely sinister ("What makes you nervous?").
In any case, on to our conversation with SJP. The phone rang at Artnet’s office for our 4:05 pm appointment, and after Parker’s personal assistant made clear that we had "literally three minutes" to speak, we were put through to the actress, who said time was short as she was in the middle of feeding her newborns.
So: Why a reality show about contemporary art? Parker explained that her connection to art came from the fact that she was lucky enough to be from a good art city -- that would be Cincinnati, Ohio -- and that her parents had always pressed her to take advantage of the area’s museums. In addition, she is linked to the art world via her husband’s mother, Patricia Broderick -- the subject of an exhibition this spring at New York’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery, Apr. 23-May 22, 2009 (for pictures from the opening, see "Party New York"). But mainly, she said, the initiative had come from her thinking about how to support the arts in a country which offers little to artists, and "the timing became fortuitous" as a new, art-positive president came into office.
What kind of people did she hope would audition? Parker describes the show’s aspirations as "pretty democratic." "I don’t care if you’re 17 from Seattle, or a 78-year-old woman who has been painting in obscurity," she said. "Everyone has an opportunity." (One exception: All participants must be U.S. citizens, a caveat Parker described as unfortunate but necessary.)
Parker is clear that she is approaching the story as an "enthusiast" and a supporter of the arts, and not as an "art expert." Nevertheless, we couldn’t help asking if there were any contemporary artists with whom she felt a particular connection. Parker replied that she couldn’t think of any in particular, but that "the more I know about art, the more I like contemporary artists." The impetus for the show, she said, came partly from visiting the new and expanded Museum of Modern Art back in 2006 with her son, who is now six years old, which made her think about all the artists who were "working without any kind of audience."
And finally, the all-important question: Will Parker herself appear on the "Untitled Art Project?" She replied that this really "depends on timing" (we’ll take that as a "no"), but that she would, of course, love to meet the artists selected for the show to congratulate them on their achievement. Parker, it should be mentioned, struck quite the humble note about her own role in the endeavor: Her goal was to involve "people who have lot of credibility in the art world," she said, "and that’s not me."
Bravo promises to include a panel of art-world luminaries in the project, with the winning art being toured around to various museums across the U.S. Who and what these figures and institutions might be is still up in the air -- however, for the casting part of the show at least, Parker and Co. have definitely managed to snag spaces that have art-world cred: Would-be artists get their chance to strut their stuff at LAXART in Los Angeles, July 11-12; Fredric Snitzer Gallery in Miami, July 14; the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, July 16; and at White Columns in New York, July 18-19. For the application form and more exact information, see www.bravotv.com/casting
Of course, "Untitled Art Project" will not be the first TV show to try to fit the woolly world of contemporary art into the reality TV mold. So, as a final service, we thought we would try to round up some advice for SJP and contacted Lower Manhattan art dealer James Fuentes, co-creator and co-executive producer of Artstar, VoomTV’s own entry into the genre. Does Fuentes have any advice about producing an art-reality show? "You mean, besides ‘hire James Fuentes as a consultant?’," he quipped, then added, more seriously: "The most important decisions are in casting." In other words, the show’s success depends less on Parker, and more on the kinds of artists who decide to turn out next week.