'Work of Art' brings back the Bravo magic of 'Project Runway'

abdi-work-of-art-bravo.jpgWhen Bravo announced plans for an art-based reality competition, it seemed they were trying to squeeze more blood from a stone that dried up sometime after the first season of "Shear Genius" and well before "Launch My Line."

But "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist" ended up being one of the most unique offerings the network has put out in years, highlighting an eccentric niche of professionals and pushing them into situations where they could create thoughtful and diverse work -- a lot like the show that spawned it.

"Work of Art" captures the same excitement as the first season of "Project Runway," introducing a community foreign to most viewers and broadening their cultural perspective because of it. Like its predecessor, it even showcases work in a way that didn't leave us feeling as though we weren't experiencing the full effect. (Nothing but love for "Top Chef," but cooking has long been a TV staple and HD only take you so far with food.)

Within the construct of challenges, Bravo didn't get caught up in gimmicks and themes that restrain so many reality show assignments. Contestants always had wide enough parameters to make something that didn't come across as forced. Even in the finale ( fully recapped here), when the final three braced themselves for a curve ball, they were told about an extra prize instead.

And speaking of relief, it was all kinds of refreshing to see product placement play such a small part in "Work of Art." Audi challenge aside -- the season's low-point, even if Jaclyn's winning piece was awesome -- sponsors seemed absent from any of the work.

The series also pulled off the near-impossible feat of properly casting not just the contestants, but everyone, from the get-go. China Chow, with her bonkers wardrobe and teary dismissals, is the ideal host. And mentor Simon de Pury shares Timm Gunn's resume and earnestness, with the added bonus of a charming accent. Judges Bill Powers, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and Jerry Saltz are fantastic in their own right, but we also sort of resent them on account of how stupid they make us feel.

And in the end, they even picked the right guy. Abdi Farah's growth over the season, his endearing visit home (moms, why must you always make us cry?) and his cohesive and moving final exhibition made him the dream reality contestant.  

So is there more "Work of Art" after this finale? It would seem so. Despite so-so ratings throughout its 10-episode run, Bravo ended the finale with a call for applications for future seasons. We're cautiously optimistic. And if it does come back, there's only one thing we'd change.

Shorten the title. 

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Photo credits: Bravo