Jerry Saltz on Why ‘Street Art Throwdown’ Is Complete Crap

Saltz admits he didn't even watch his own reality show.

Street Art Throwdown's premiere. Photo: Oxygen

Street Art Throwdown, Oxygen’s new art-based reality show in which contestants compete for street art glory and a $100,000 grand prize, aired last night (see Reality TV Show Street Art Throwdown Promises to Discover Next Banksy). In the wake of such an important television moment, we asked the inimitable Jerry Saltz, New York magazine art critic, recent Ellie winner (see Jerry Saltz Wins National Magazine Award for Commentary), and a judge on the last great art world reality show, Work of Art, to weigh in on why people like street art, whether he will tune in, and why it’s important for the judges to eat all the free food they can get their hands on.

What do you imagine are the challenges facing the judges of Street Art Throwdown? What about the contestants?
Whatever the “challenge” is on these reality TV gameshows about art, if it’s anything like WoA then the contestants will have only a few hours to do it and therefore it tells you shit. Really, whatever the challenge is on these shows tells you shit.

Do you have any advice for the judges?
Eat all the free food you can; I was paid $900 per episode before taxes (for nine episodes). I hope you’re making more than I did. If you’re pudgy like I am and they ask you to wear something called “manx:” don’t. And if anyone pulls you aside to talk to you about your “hanging brains,” prepare to know the meaning of the abject. I had a ball as doing the show was a wonderful 10-hour break from having to write; I loved that part of it.

Is there anything you would do differently as a judge if you had a second chance to be on a television show like this?
I think I would try to fuck it up more by publicly telling who the three finalists are before anyone knows. Like in the second week of the season. Judges have to sign these papers saying they can’t do this or that. At one point WoA said they’d sue me for a million dollars. That’s when I said, “Okay. GO ahead.” And they backed down.

Why is everyone so crazy about street art?
My guess is that many people like so-called “street art” because they think it’s outlaw, renegade, and under-the-radar, when, in truth, just as with so-called not-street art, about 99 percent of it is totally look-alike, generic, and unoriginal.

Any chance you’re going to tune into the show?
I watch TV but I don’t think I know where the Oxygen network is. That isn’t Oprah’s, is it? Also, you have to understand that I often didn’t even watch my own show. The main reason I did the show was for all the writing and commenting that came after the show was aired. My wife never watched one minute of any episode. It never occurred to either of us that she should.

Do you think there’s a future for art-based television programming?
Sure. Everyone thinks they belong on stage. In the future everyone will be famous to 15 people.

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