On Reality Television Artsport Programming and Blowing Willie Nelson

Peregrine Honig in her Studio. Photo Mike Sinclair



In 2011, writer Greg Zinman asked Peregrine Honig 12 guestions for Elle Magazine about her 2010 sojourn on the Bravo reality extravaganza Work of Art, known also to some as Survival Manhattan Studio Jungle.

Greg Zinman: Were there any differences or tensions between how you conceived of your work and how that work was represented on the show?

Peregrine Honig: Being on a reality television show is about living in a green room and existing backstage twenty-four hours a day on a nightless, bookless, musicless road trip. The inside jokes are endless, you randomly stop to drink and eat, it’s exhausting and annoying, but something is always about to happen. I made a good friend on this trip, Nicole Nadeau. I stood for countless hours in the same room with Jerry Saltz, a writer I’ve followed for over a decade. I met small people with big names. I mastered quoting Simon de Pury in the voice of Count Chocula. I had a fine time as long as I remembered where I was and what I was doing.

The art making process is intimate, so even if you leave the space you make it in, that energy still stays with you. So there I was, exposed and expectant. Everything took more time and was consolidated. This is the nature of the reality show as a medium. I recruited myself, my identity. I signed endless paperwork and put a moment of my life in the hands of a team of talented strangers to edit and debut as a show about art.

Artists are the Anglerfish of the sea. We follow this funky little light and manage our lives. Artists rarely get picked first for conventional sports, so it was entertaining to be chosen early and take home silver.

GZ How insightful or helpful were the crits, and are there any pieces of advice you received or insight gained from your time on the show that you've taken with you, post-Work of Art?

PH The doors opened to the public immediately after our allotted studio time expired and critiques would bleed into the morning. Trying to remain sharp made us skittish and funny. We would switch drinks off camera in hopes of future blips and behave childishly until the militaristic selection process started. I was impressed at the guests who showed up to be critics for the first season of a show. We, the artists, were temporary media sculptures. I was disposable. I knew it. I was curious how the critics would be judged by the art world when their episode aired.

I’ve been reading Jerry Saltz’s conversations about art since I was in my late teens. I’d attended panels and lectures where I listened to him speak about the nature of the art world. I was hopeful Saltz would be name enough to drive and draw an interesting jury in an intelligent direction and create an ornery audience. His wife, Roberta Smith, has always had my ear and she’s a Kansas girl. I wondered how geography would affect how I was considered.

Some of our visitors were awkward fits but it was the first season — no one knew what the puzzle picture was — kittens in a basket, a map, something to show off that black light. Our third critic “changed his mind” about his initial “dislike” of my piece to a “like” and was grumpily reprimanded. “You can’t do that,” everyone snapped. Doh!

GZ How has your having been on the show affected your creative process, if at all?

PH I developed compulsive habits — some I had to break myself of and others I pointedly retained. Because music, books, natural light, and privacy were removed from my studio practice, I lost all sense of time. So I started rituals —I would sweep the space around my desk and wash my hands before and after I entered the room. I still do this. I regressed because being watched constantly is invasive and terrifying. I enjoyed the company of the staff and producers so it was hard to relinquish my privacy to them everyday for months.

GZ How has your having been on the show impacted your career?

PH Having millions of strangers watch you do anything in their living rooms is going to change the way you consider yourself.

I really enjoy curating and I like being on different sides of walls, seeing situations from multiple directions. I curated myself into a television show plugged by the wonderful and dainty Sarah Jessica Parker. My host, China Chow, emerged to every critique feathered, sparking, sleek, or elegantly tussled in breathtaking shoes. Once they panned in, Chow was placed on an apple crate in Uggs and pecked at by hair and makeup. I understand and appreciate film as a medium in a very different way now.

Lying got old. I told my husband to tell people I was on a book tour during the filming. I had finished Widow, a four-year print project formatted as a fashion magazine with Landfall Press, a month before auditioning for Work of Art. My television identity relates to the images in Widow and added a great layer to the piece. The contract we signed to remain silent or get sued for a million dollars was erosive. My husband finally broke down and explained where I was when his parents voiced concerned for our marriage. His awesome depression-era Georgian father reprimanded him for breaching the contract. “You signed,” Lewis scolded. I called my grandmother on my birthday during the filming and she asked what channel I was on. Adorable.

I’ve had an interesting life so far and being on a reality television show has made my life more and less interesting. The impact of being on television has enriched and marginalized my career. Bigger doors have opened to me, but the ratio of which thresholds I want to step through is equal.

Earlier this year, Julián Zugazagoitia approved my proposal to turn The Nelson- Atkins Museum’s two golf carts into a birdcage and a chariot. The project was exciting because the museum got on board very quickly and the christening of the sculptures was incredibly well attended. There’s no way to mark how being on television positively affected the fabrication and success of the work and the opening, but I am more sensitive to media as a narrative tool. When I speak, I can hear the sound of my voice, not just the words.

GZ. Were you allowed to sell the work you made on the show?

PH We signed away the individual pieces but I had assumed this would happen. I spent the first half of my stipend for the final show on silicon and plaster to make molds for the wax horses, baroque frames, and children’s heads. The second half covered documentation, printing and framing of the Twin Fawns, human hair for the horses, hiring a red-haired girl in a green dress to walk around and comb the horses, and renting a cotton candy machine. I have my molds, my source material and images, the twin fawns, my hands, and my mind. I made decisions about Fair Game, my final show, with Work of Art’s restrictions in mind.

There were pieces I created on Work of Art that acted as props for larger ideas. The time restrictions allowed for me to make prototypes and maquettes of my work. The camera became part of the final medium to my construction and I started to produce with video documentation as a framing device. The Widow Having a Conversation With Herself, two small-battery operated televisions turned on to static facing each other through a passageway I had sewn from storm screen, died during the critique. The light from the glass faces turned and reflected through the black mesh until the batteries ran out of juice. There was something satisfying about the piece no longer “operating” when we were brought down for the selection process. The piece’s conversation had run its course.
GZ Were there any misconceptions about your role in the show that you've had to dispel?

PH People have a pretty clear sense of how reality television works. It’s sort of like Tina Fey’s take on Photoshop — everyone has one relative who thinks that picture of Sarah Palin in an American Flag bikini holding a rifle is real. I didn’t audition for a reality show thinking I had any control over the editing process.

A lot of people think they know me because they recognize me. I get fan mail. It’s awkward and awesome.

GZ Why do you think there was so much hostility from the art world towards the show? I'm thinking of various blog posts, reviews, and of Jerry Saltz's candor about how he faced criticism from his art world friends for participating on the show. By that same token, a lot of people seem to love the show, and think that it can help popularize contemporary art...is WoA the art world's secret crush?

In 2008 my friend Rita Brinkerhoff and I took a class from the fabulous cartoonist Linda Barry, Writing about the Unthinkable. Barry admitted to reading her long lost high school journals with great hope of finding early genius. She read each entry, and eventually compared the writing to a monkey running through the Battle of Waterloo searching for bananas.

I was making work about popular culture and social hierarchies and mocking paparazzi publications when I auditioned for the first season of Work of Art. I was already headed to Miami when the director of a residency I had attended posted the call.

My decision to be exploited and exploit myself provides me with endless avenues to consider my work as pop culture and how people respond to my ideas through the television as a medium.

I’m fine with television being a resource for people who want to feel closer to something they are afraid of. If a television show motivates one teenager to stand in front of a painting that pulls him or her over the dark side of the moon, pass the remote.

GZ What role or place do you think Work of Art has in the contemporary art world?

Ha! What role does anything have in the contemporary art world?

GZ Does the structure of WoA allow for the creation of great art? Or do its restrictions (the specific challenges, the time constraints, the fact that the artists are always being observed, etc.) preclude the creation of great art?

PH Who knows what allows for great art. Goya would not have created his black paintings on camera with a microphone noodled up his front and a battery pack latched onto his linen pants. Great art is relative and making bad art is part of getting there.

GZ How accurately does •Work of Art• portray artists and the NYC art world?

PH There is a reason jokes are funny — it’s because there are recognizable truisms. My favorite joke to date — “What’s the worst thing you can hear when giving Willie Nelson a blowjob?” answer, “I’m not Willie Nelson.” It’s not to say that Work of Art is an old skinny hippy with braids wearing denim that looks so much like Willie Nelson you end up on your knees in your mind to laugh at the joke. It’s that Work of Art looks like what it is and references the NYC art world — something that also looks like what it is. Both are abstract and both will sustain skinny hippy boys and girls with braids wearing denim until the end of their time.

GZ What do you think viewers can learn about art from watching WoA?

It’s easy to get emotionally attached to strangers.

GZ What would viewers be surprised about the show that they don't see broadcast?

PH I own a nine-year-old lingerie store. It’s small and beautiful and it pays for my studio. All of the producers have stopped by and bought pretty things. Simone de Pury is a lingerie connoisseur.

GZ Finally, please tell me what some of your current projects and plans are.

PH I’m writing you from La Pueblo de Cazalla. It’s Feria so all the women and their daughters are dressed to the nines in polka dots, beaded peinetas, with roses pinned to their heads. Old men are singing cantes and the girls are dancing sevillanas on the sunflower seed shell peppered floors of tiny bars. I have a Beatrix Potter book in my backpack.

What are my plans? I guess you’ll have to keep watching.


Peregrine Honig, Widow (inside pages) with Reading Glove, designed by Peggy Noland, 2010.

Peregrine Honig's Widow, a First for Art Publisher Landfall Press

Peregrine Honig, Widow (cover), 2010.

Peregrine Honig, Que Bella Cabela, 2008, watercolor, human hair, ink.

Peregrine, Chanel Masai, 2008, watercolor, 49 x 35", framed.



Peregrine Honig
Deluxe Ecition
Released February 2010
Size: 10.25" x 12.75" / 167 pages
Poster & Audio Snuff Black
Reading Glove by Peggy Noland
Limited Edition of 500
Standard Edition
Released February 2010
Size: 10.25" x 12.75" / 167 pages
Poster & Audio Snuff Black
Limited Edition of 1000


If sketching and drawing are the pardigmatic practices of visual art (and they are), then Peregrine Honig is the penultimate artist. Even visual artists who know her wonder at and admire her ability to sit in a roomful of people and noise and relentlessly make lines on whatever paper or surface is available.

I've known her for 15 years and we have remained friends throughout all the permutations of personal change in those years. I purchased one of her first painting pieces that she sold, made in her junior year at Kansas City Art Institute. Born in San Francisco, she is the product of compelling creative influences from her father who co-founded an early residential and studio co-operative in San Francisco to artist and teacher Lester Goldman, one of the most selfless art instructors ever to walk the earth. He never allowed his practice to get in the way of ministering to his students.

Honig, deeply in touch with her gifts, has never hesitated to draw on the experience and position of those around her to help her forward her work.

Around 1997 she started Fahrenheit Gallery, an artist-run space in Kansas City's industrial West Bottoms, where she showed artists with national and international reputations and inspired other young Kansas City artists to do the same.

In the late 1990s she began to establish her artistic oeuvre with what are commonly called her "little girl drawings," sketches of little girls, often wearing only panties in dramatic contexts that could be said to appeal to the prurient impulses of "dirty old men." That the images played at the edges of cultural taboo was part of the work. That the drawings were to some extent eschewed by feminists of an earlier generation, later to be accepted and embraced by them, was also part of the work.

Honig is an imp and it extends to her artistic practice.

It also suffuses her business practice. Five years ago she took a flyer on a low-rent retail space in Kansas City and started a lingerie store called Birdies, which was her initial foray into the Fashion business. It was followed about a year later with an open-air runway fashion show and community performance that gave voice and exposure to a multitude of designers and artists in Kansas City. It has become an annual spring event in that city.

Recent Peregrin Honig Solo Exhibitions include Widow, Nerman Museum of Art, Overland Park, Kansas, 2010, Fashism, Dwight Hackett Projects, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2008; Pretty Babies, Geschiedle, Chicago, Illinois, 2007; Whiskers for Prada, Aruba Ballroom, Las Vegas, Nevada, 2006: Albocracy, Jet Artworks, Washington, D.C., 2005; Patriot Acts, Acuna-Hansen Gallery, Los Angeles, California, 2004; Mint Forest Drawings, Geschiedle Gallery, Chicago, Illinois, 2004; New Work, Byron C. Cohen Gallery, Kansas City, Missouri, 2004; Boys and Veils, Dwight Hackett Gallery, Kansas City, Missouri, 2004; Alphabeta, Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle, Washington, 2000.

Selected Group Exhibitions include The Diane and Sandy Besser Collection, de Young Museum, San Francisco, California, 2007; Sattelite Exhibitions, Bridge Art Fair, Miami, Florida, 2007; Scope, New York, 2006; Nova, Chicago, Illinois, 2006; Identity-Sexuality-Gender, Contemporary Art, Collection of Thomas Robertello, Kinsey Institute Gallery, Bloomington, Indiana, 2005.

Selected Collections include Albrecht Knox, Buffalo, New York; Kemper Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; Chicago Art Institute; Fogg Art Museum Seattle, Washington; de Young Museum of Art, San Francisco, California; The Milwaukee Art Museum; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut.

Awards include Art Omi International Artists’ Residency, 2008; Inspiration Grant, Satellite Exhibitions, 2007; Creative Capital Development Program, 2007; Art In the Loop, Laura DeAngelis Celestial Flyaways, 2006; Avenue of the Arts public arts project grant, 2002; and Charlotte Street Fund, 2002.

Accomplishments include (1997-present) Owner and director of Fahrenheit Gallery; Contributing writer and illustrator to Review Magazine; Contributing writer to Art Tattler, and Cofounder of Satellite Exhibitions.

Peregrine Honig has been printing with Landfall Press, Inc. for more than ten years. Her ideas and images challenge issues of beauty and social hierarchies. Honig’s recent collaboration with Landfall, Widow, deals with the complex culture of the fashion industry.

Widow, is published in the format of a glossy one-volume fashion magazine and includes an audio component (the final studio recording of Jimmy Carl Black, the drummer for Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention), 186 images of her work, essays, a poster, and photographed portraits. The first 500 (the Deluxe Edition) include a reading glove by designer Peggy Noland. •Widow• draws lines between the fashion industry and the fine art world and is available as a limited edition of 1500. This unique venture has never been done before by any fine art publisher.

Peregrine Honig, from the Exposed Series, 2008.

Peregrine Honig, Widow (inside pages) with Snuff Black disc, 2010.