Miles Mendenhall: the show isn’t over

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“Work of Art” finalist Miles Mendenhall stands alonside his co-contestants Abdi and Peregrine.

Over the past several weeks Miles Mendenhall has gone from a University of Minnesota student to a nationally known TV star. On Wednesday night, Bravo’s reality show “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” came to a close, and Mendenhall came in a surprise 3rd place. Surprise, because many people had him pegged as a favorite.

If you read my blog post “Going for Miles” last week, then you know that Mendenhall has a background in theater, and approached this entire reality TV experience as a sort of experiment.

So when I spoke to him this afternoon by phone, my first question for him was “is the performance over now?”

His answer? “No.”

The entire point I was interested in was this notion of a dual existence. I’m a person here in Minneapolis, but now I have this second persona that exists on television and in the world of pop culture.

Mendenhall said he purposely tried to create a character that was ambiguous, and kept both the cameramen and the audience guessing. He played with different character traits, sometimes lovable, sometimes detestable. In the weeks leading up to the show he ate barely anything so that he looked particularly skinny, and then ate obsessively throughout the course of the taping. By the end he’d gained 17 pounds.

So sure, he went into this as an experiment, but wasn’t there at least a part of him that wante to win the competition?

I think the idea of winning something like that would be horrific; that comes with a title and level of pressure I didn’t want to have. In all honesty – examining this sort of thing – it was more about how much of this [media frenzy, public criticism] I can take. I guess I would have liked to win the money and then give it away – it would have been a way to give the middle finger to the makers of the show.

Some of that criticism involved other artists on the show calling him an “arts pussy” and a “douchebag.”

So how does he feel for Abdi, the artist who won the competition?

I’m proud of Abdi – He really wanted this.

As the winner, Abdi gets a check for $100,000 and a solo exhibition of his work at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

As a runner-up, Mendenhall received $5,000 which he spent on testing the limits of screen printing. And he also got himself a show in New York City.

Where? Mendenhall can’t tell, because of his contract with Bravo. His exhibition will be up at the same time as Abdi’s, and therefor is seen as competition by the network.

Mendenhall says if anything, the show has given him a better pespective on the “game” that surrounds art.

Art is this pure thing that we perceive as a pure act, but in order to survive it needs to interact with commerce, and it’s that interaction, that game that this show really dealt with. That, and also how the personality of the artist affects how we see the art. [In "Work of Art"] you were not charged with making good art, you were charged with dramatizing the making of art.

Mendenhall says despite his feelings about the premise of the show, he actually has enjoyed watching it.

I thought the editing was hysterical – people ask me how I watch it. It’s just too funny – I wasn’t interested in being successful or good, I was more interested in the show’s horrendous nature.

Mendenhall says since he returned to Minneapolis from the taping, he’s been working on ways to put his experience to good use, and to provide some tangible proof of him not actually being an “art pussy” or “douchebag.” He’s donated prints of his work to the U of M to help raise money for student scholarships, and he’s curated their most recent BFA show. Soon he’ll head to New Mexico to work on carbon printing, in preparation for a show at Franklin Art Works in April.

  • http://www.johnsidman.com John Sidman

    I think his comments about the show’s “horrendous nature” are like biting the hand that feeds you. How ungrateful. There are hundreds if not thousands of artists that would have loved to exchange places with him and to insult the show is juvenile. He has benefited immensely from the exposure, and it seems he is unappreciative.

    Giving the middle finger to the show? He is a douchebag if that was his intentions should he have won. He was clearly shocked when he lost, so I don’t believe for a second that he did not care. You cannot blush on cue, and he turned red as a beet when he lost. He should count his lucky stars he had the chance to be on it. If winning would be horrific, why did he try at all? An experiment? BS!

    Among those of us that followed the show and regularly posted on the Bravo message board, he was never a favorite. He was transparent and obviously acting, and his art while conceptual consistent was boring. It takes a real tool of a person to disrespect the show that gave them such an opportunity.

    It was obvious that the producers edited the show to induce drama. So what? Mark was a perfect example of a gracious participant. He was an artist and a gentleman. Miles was playing games. He’s lucky Eric didn’t kick his ass.

    He needs a lot of growth before he matures as an artist and a person.

  • Jill

    Wow. What a smug jerk. It seemed obvious to me that he was acting from the beginning. What an embarrassment to the University of Minnesota.

    Forget “art pussy”. Miles is an art douchebag.

  • Shineola

    John,

    You say that Miles was never a favorite on the Bravo message boards and his art was thin and boring. Well, sir, please tell me why the judged on WoA couldn’t get enough of it? Is it possible that Miles was producing crap because he knew that persona counts for more than skill or talent in most art circles?

    Every level of the art world is infected by placing value on an artist by things like personality, an interesting personal narrative or what the artist’s last work sold for instead of tge quality of the painting or vision. In fine art, where you got your degree and who you know are more important than what you produce. In outsider art especially your backstory and struggles are of utmost importance. Only street art seems to consider skill more impotant than connections or education and even that can be exploited once a value is placed on a piece.

    I really do believe Miles was playing subversive. He seemed to put less and less of himself into his work as the competition progressed and he garnered more and more praise for his work. Dripping bleach unto paper seemed like his final attempt at throwing himself under the bus but even that was adored by the judges. WoA really showed me how important it is to be loved by the insiders before you can be considered great. If I were in his shoes, it would be disheartening for me to submit bleach stained paper and be praised for the innovative way I had created it.

    I applaud him for challenging the judges and for calling them out on their own idea of good art. Even if it’s not what he intended to do, it’s what I gained from watching this show.

  • Tristan Tzara

    I think the “persona” narrative was an after thought once he lost. He looked quite embarrassed on the tube. Plus he has his sad pixilated dead homeless man work on his website– he must like it.

  • Katt

    What a douche!

    Oh, and Shineola(areola, dumbass, whatever) the only reason that old man spent every week with his tongue up Miles ass is because he wanted his tongue up Mile’s ass!

  • Shineola

    Katt,

    Why are you so angry? Why are you so quick to call me a dumbass when you’re saying pretty much the same thing I said? You’re calling yourself a dumbass when you call me a dumbass.

  • Taralalala

    To Shineola,

    So what you learned on the show was in order to succeed in the art world, you have to be a fake and good at bullshitting rich art people? So you should probably start getting into acting now if you want to succeed, or study Miles, who I believe is a great con artist. Miles was playing everybody with this tortured artist b.s., and his model worthy looks. He wasn’t provocative or thoughtful at all, he was trying to win 100,000. His work is not even innovative or original. His art is simply recycled ideas of other artists work and what is trendy in the contemporary art scene, but more boring and less personality. You would like to believe that he was calling out the judges on their idea of art, but that is simply not true since he would have had the opportunity to really push the envelope and didn’t. He is a hack, like a lot of young artists. And if I were in his shoes and won a competition based on wooden panels and bleached paper, I wouldn’t feel bad, I would say, ‘Yes, another stupid rich bitch judge gets taken on a ride down bullshit avenue. Give me more praise please.’ And I am pretty sure that he is bragging to his buddies about how stupid the judges were for praising his work on the show.

    And even though Abdi won, he was not up to par in communicating his vision aesthetically. He needs irony and he does not have that. His final show at the Brooklyn Museum reeks of undergrad work and I felt such socio-political cliches and sappiness from it all, it was embarrassing to watch. I felt as if they gave Abdi the award because they felt sorry for him, the underdog. It was like, ‘Here, throw the underdog a bone’. I don’t believe anyone should have won that show. I almost would have liked Perigrine to have won, but those hideous drawings of the girls puking was a deal breaker.

  • Marianne Combs

    Hey All – I appreciate your passion in regards to this conversation, and am enjoying reading your responses. That in mind, let’s be civil, ok?

  • David R Munson

    I’m pretty amazed by the level of negative reaction to this story, and for that matter the reactions to Miles himself. I can understand and identify with what Miles did and why and frankly I find it pretty interesting. Bravo’s show may theoretically exist to promote art and new artists at some superficial level, but ultimately it’s a beast that was created to make money. There’s no other reason for it to exist. One may object to what one sees as duplicity on the part of Miles, but one must also consider the context.

    Bottom line, I love what he did and the motivations he had for doing so.

  • Doober

    I loved him in ” The Sixth Sense”

  • faggy Mcfagfag

    you are all fake artists and scumbag poop brains, Miles seems awesome to me! this tv show is hilarious and like life, IS ONE BIG JOKE A ROOO!