Art Show Down

Photo courtesy of Art Interactive

Photo courtesy of Art Interactive

Denez McAdoo

Admit it: watching contestants spin the big wheel on “The Price is Right” is easily the most compelling five minutes on daytime television.

Just seeing those old ladies squat down, reach up, stick out their tongue and desperately grip the “Big Wheel” with all of their arthritic might, it makes you think – that could be me! Sure the models are nice to look at and Bob Barker’s post show message about spaying and neutering your pets is endearing, but neither one of these staple game show elements even remotely approaches the sheer glitz and glamor of the red, green, and gold “Big Wheel” spin. It runs the gamut of human emotion. When contestants win they jump and flail like a fish out of water, while you, the humble viewer, get the joy of sharing in a small piece of their glory? When they loose you get to watch their hopes and dreams crash in utter defeat, thus making you feel superior by contrast?

It is this very display of human tragedy and triumph that is at the center of the game show’s appeal and it is its win-big/ loose-big dynamic that is the very lifeblood of our American experience.

America is a land of dreams; a land where total suckers with no marketable skills whatsoever can suddenly become rich and semi-famous for no particular reason at all. This was the case for the early pioneers and its still true in free market capitalism. For some, the big wheel just happens to land in their favor.

But can it be art? This theme of the game show as “a unique index of contemporary culture” is being explored at Cambridge’s Art Interactive latest exhibit “Art Show Down,” which will be featured from now until Oct. 28. The best, and only, game show-as-performance art exhibit this side of L.A., “Art Show Down” mixes American wild west themes with the kitsch of its game show counter part.

Two years in the works, the idea for Art Show Down was conceived by Roland Smart who was quick to put together a team of artists to work on the project.

“I knew I wanted a western theme but with an avant-guard edge,” said Smart. “As we began integrating our theme into the set design, game rules, characters, and structure, we found ways to connect our lowbrow frontier theme with a high brow comic sensibility.”

And thus “Art Show Down” was born within this attempt to fuse the game show genre with the art world, as contestants compete for the title of Ultimate Artist.

“Late in 2004, Roland contacted me saying that he wanted to put together a game show project,” said Jeff Warmouth, one of the project’s curators. “We spent several multi-hour sessions brainstorming the title of the show alone,” explains Jeff. “Runner-ups included “The Artist Challenge,” “Art Champion,” “American Art Idler,” “Meet Your Maker,” “Ultimate Artist,” “Aht Stahz,” and many others that thankfully hit the cutting-room floor.”

The show itself works in three stages, starting with the Elimination Round where the initial four contestants are whittled down to just the two deemed most worthy. Mullet and denim vest wearing host Chlorine keeps the shows pace as contestants go through a demanding set of physical and metal tasks. Climbing walls, shooting paint balls, drinking Tabasco, and of course, spinning the “big wheel” are all part of how “Art Show Down” separates the winners from the losers. Of course audience members are encouraged to participle by shouting out answers during the art identification rounds in which contestants guess auction values and identify the famous from the forgery.

Ultimately “Art Show Down” fuses the seemingly disparate worlds of highbrow art and lowbrow culture into an exhibit that is part performance, part gallery, part contest, and all fun.

Seven episodes of “Art Show Down” are being filmed throughout September and October and then will air on CCTV at 6:00 starting on September 30. Check out for more info. Or head over to Art Interactive at 130 Bishop Allen Drive in Cambridge.