If you think Crash Gallery is crazy to watch, just imagine hosting it
Crash Gallery is back on CBC, and Sean O'Neill is ready for Season 2
If you think the average Crash Gallery challenge looks bananas on TV, just imagine being there in person. Host Sean O'Neill is back for Season 2, premiering on CBC this Sunday, Feb. 5. By day, he's the head programmer at Toronto's AGO — organizing screenings, performances, art classes, the monthly First Thursday party, you name it. But nothing in his already off-the-wall day job compares to what happens on set.
"Crash Gallery represents what museums are trying to be more of, right? It's about having fun with art."- Sean O'Neill,
Here, he shares some of his Season 2 highlights with CBC Arts and reveals what would happen if he had to trade places with a Crash Gallery competitor.
How does your day job compare to Crash Gallery?
"Ha! The Crash Gallery environment is very different from the day-to-day reality of the museum. It's kind of wild and off-the-wall and wacky and fun — and in some ways, Crash Gallery represents what museums are trying to be more of, right? It's about having fun with art; it's about breaking down some of those barriers to access."
The show definitely takes artists out of their comfort zones, but how about you?
"Hosting a show is crazy. But that's part of the reason I did it — to do something that was completely different."
Tell me about that. Why did you want to be part of the show?
"You know, I've been working at the AGO in all different roles for eight years. My first job was as a waiter in the restaurant and now I'm the head of programming — and I've had seven jobs in between. I've been coming to the same place every day since 2008."
"Ultimately, the reason that I did Crash Gallery was to do something different and have fun with art and to try something new."
"And to be honest with you, the reason I did it was because I think it's really important that the CBC be doing programming around art. I think [the show's] an interesting experiment in bringing visual arts to a wider audience, and that's the work I do every day at the gallery."
This is your second year on the show, so how did the making of Season 2 compare to Season 1?
"I had more fun in the second season. We have these three experts now who are part of the show: Bridget, Paul and Syrus. I'm a consulting producer of the show, and one of the things they asked me to do is help find the experts."
What were you looking for when you put together the panel?
"We wanted people who we thought were really great artists first, and who did really interesting work. And we also wanted people who would be able to have enough of a sense of humour to go with the show. Because I've said this 100 times: the artists who are on the show are not there to make their masterwork."
"Having [the experts] there does something really great to the show. It rounds it out. The fun is still there, the wackiness is still there, the humour is still there, but there are these moments where you can go a little bit deeper and maybe learn something about art."
"Plus it was just really nice to have people around who were companions in the wild, hot studio for 14 hours a day. People I get to have lunch with, you know? (laughs) Like, can we go get a cold-pressed juice?"
How about the challenges — how much input do you get to have on the stunts?
"There's some really amazing challenge producers who come up with everything on the show. And so what we do is they come up with 30 or 40 ideas and we'll sit down as a team and talk about what's going to be able to executed in the studio, what can happen in 30 minutes, what's fair to the artists."
What would be too much? What's an example of a challenge that you had to scrap?
"That's a good question. Hmm...We're not going to, like, make somebody paint while we put them in a flame retardant suit and throw fire at them. (laughs) We didn't pitch that, but we flirt with the edge — and the closest I think we came this year was the underwater challenge, where you paint underwater."
"You do want the artist to be able to actually do something, and that one ended up being my favourite challenges of the season."
- Crash GalleryThis Crash Gallery judge knows what it's like to make art for a live audience — but not underwater
What would happen if you had to do one of the challenges?
"I'm not technically skilled so I'd probably make something that looks really bad, but I'd try to be a good sport about it."
Like you were saying earlier, Crash Gallery wants to make the arts feel more fun, more accessible. Have you ever felt intimidated by the arts — like there was some kind of barrier to entry?
"Of course. Absolutely. Before I worked at the AGO, I knew a lot about theatre and film and was super interested and passionate about literature, and those forms, for me at least, felt a lot more accessible than visual art. It took me working in a museum to develop a level of comfort in that world."
"I think museums can feel to people like these big, hallowed institutions. It's a little intimidating. There's not always a lot of help in understanding what you're supposed to be looking at or what you're supposed to be feeling."
"You can research art history or whatever you want to do to educate yourself, but it is just as valid for you to say, 'Wow, that painting's really beautiful' or 'I really like that sculpture' or 'I don't even understand why this is even art. I don't get this.'"
"What you can do with art is go in and have an experience [...] and your experience is an authentic one."
"Just start going [to museums and galleries] — check out their programs."
"I think the trick is to just start somewhere and keep going, and I find one experience in one institution or one gallery can lead to the next and lead to the next."
Season 2 of Crash Gallery premieres on CBC Television Sunday, Feb. 5 at 9:30 p.m. Until then, catch up on what you missed. Watch all of Season 1 online.