Miles Mendenhall: the show isn’t over


“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.