Crash Gallery returns for a colourful, chaotic second season

Crash Gallery host Sean O’Neill has a few modest goals for the visual art competition series, which is heading into Season 2 tonight on CBC. “I do think art can transform lives, I do think art can help build a more compassionate, empathetic, humane society. And it’s also fun. It feels good.”

He has hopes the accessible, high-energy show—airing on primetime on the public broadcaster—can act as a gateway drug to a type of art that doesn’t often benefit from the pop culture embrace given to music or movies, for example.

“It’s really about having fun with art. It’s not about creating masterpieces. It’s not a 30-minute art history lesson,” said the host, whose day job is an associate director with the Art Gallery of Ontario, where, like other art museums, he and his colleagues have had plenty of conversations about how to bring visual art to a broader audience.

The five episodes of Season 2 were shot one a day in Vancouver, where media were invited to participate in a challenge the contestants had also tackled. Lying face up on a rotating platform, a canvas above us, covered in disposable overalls, we began to paint … and attempt to avoid the inevitable splatters. (My hairdresser a few days later: “Were you painting something red?”)

After our time was up, the judges asked us what our vision was for the painting. Me: “To not get paint in my mouth, oh and the colours and motion of nature.” They then offered their very kind, you’re-not-professional-artists critique which nonetheless had me puffed up for weeks when they compared it to a famous (to people more in the know than me) painting by abstract impressionist Joan Mitchell.

You be the judge: an original Wild on the left, Mitchell on the right.

The judges and critiques are new this season, bringing more depth to the conversation around the art without veering into an “eat your vegetables” art history lesson. Also new is that the show flew in artists from around the country rather than sticking with the Vancouver-area base of Season 1. The colourful, frenetic energy remains, helped by the new set that is more gallery, less warehouse.

“I think people are curious about art,” said O’Neill. “I hope people watch the show and the world of visual arts seems a little less intimidating. I hope they think, hey, I can pick up a sketch book, or take an art class, bring my grandchildren to an art museum, or go with friends to one of the late night parties most of the museums are throwing. I hope it helps break down barriers between people and the visual arts. It’s a show for people who are curious.”

Crash Gallery airs Sundays at 9:30 p.m. on CBC.