Review: Reality present ‘The Exhibit’ turns artwork into blood sport

A short while in the past, a examine confirmed that the strongest sign for “making it” as an artist right this moment isn’t expertise or a grasp of nice arts diploma or group exhibits. What issues most, in response to the analysis, is endorsement: how shortly an artist can safe institutional help within the type of a solo exhibition at a significant gallery or museum. Everything else follows. There are apparently few different ladders to climb.

That explains MTV and the Smithsonian Channel’s latest actuality providing, “The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist,” a present that transforms endorsement into the last word prize. Across six episodes, seven rising artists compete for $100,000 and an exhibition on the Smithsonian Institute’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. Contenders vary from rising stars (Baseera Khan, who’s been reviewed in Artforum, Frieze and the New Yorker) to the up-and-coming (Misha Kahn, whose “Watermelon Party” was exhibited at Dries Van Noten’s L.A. flagship in 2021) to the established however ignored (Frank Buffalo Hyde, whose work is held by the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe).

In a well-known system, the artists have a number of hours to make one “commission” in response to a given theme — gender, social media— and their work is critiqued by a rotating panel of judges, together with the artist Adam Pendleton and author Kenny Schachter. After six weeks, one artist will vault to a stage of visibility that usually solely megagalleries present. For artists who can’t depend upon conventional platforms at all times working of their favor, the present presents a recourse to a prejudicial gallery system and a possibility for them to broaden their viewers.

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Still, these gladiator video games within the cultural area are a tacit validation of the harmful perception that tradition is a blood sport. Artists already compete with one another for validation, sources and a focus, and “The Exhibit” solely exacerbates the issue by framing it as leisure.

This isn’t the primary present solid from this mould. In 2010, Bravo’s “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” produced by the corporate behind “Project Runway” and “Top Chef,” exploited a tidy parallel between internecine art-world drama and acquainted conceits of actuality TV. The present additionally provided a $100,000 money prize in addition to a solo exhibition on the Brooklyn Museum, the place one trustee resigned in protest, citing the museum’s notion as “a party place and a center of celebrity.” The critic Jerry Saltz penned an apologia for his function as a choose on the primary season, describing it as “bad for art.” (He subsequently returned for the subsequent season.)

After profitable the second and remaining season, Kymia Nawabi informed Hyperallergic: “Unfortunately, the show has not really impacted my career in very obvious ways (yet). I thought there would be some galleries interested in my work: nope. I thought I was going to make a ton of new sales: nope.” Despite first rate rankings, “Work of Art” was canceled and succeeded by the much more short-lived “Gallery Girls,” which adopted a number of upstarts in New York City’s glamorous gallery scene and ended, tellingly, when one solid member selected a job at a luxurious concierge over an internship at a prestigious artwork advisory.

“The Exhibit” properly holds its institutional affiliation at a calculated distance. Melissa Chiu, the Hirshhorn director and the present’s chief choose, opens the competitors by describing the up to date artwork museum as “the wild child” of the Smithsonian. Hosted by MTV’s Dometi Pongo, it’s definitely a bolder and extra irreverent present than its luxurious closeups of moist paint and dim galleries might need you imagine, extra aligned with the museum’s high-profile initiatives with such up to date artists asBarbara Kruger and Nicolas Party. Following within the wake of much less cutthroat craft tournaments like “The Great Pottery Throw Down” and “Blown Away,” the present seeks to domesticate a congenial vibe, foregoing weekly eliminations. In its earnest embrace of sportsmanship, “The Exhibit” desires to renegotiate a parasocial relationship to actuality TV and inject some much-needed levity into the rarefied and infrequently forbidding province of High Art.

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Yet, inside 10 minutes factions and villains emerge as predictable tropes. Pedigreed artists lapse into MFA jargon as they trash discuss the self-taught painters, who discover camaraderie and motivation in being ostracized from the mainstream; sculptors and mixed-media artists are pitted towards the painters and draftspeople in a mild parody of centuries-long tutorial debates. The Indigenous painter Frank Buffalo Hyde, for instance, criticizes the eye given to younger, institutionally validated artists over those that’ve lengthy “done the work” — a good critique, although one whose cursory therapy right here typecasts the artist and units up an ageist battle.

Rivalry might be generative. It can maintain creativity over lengthy careers and push the bounds of inventive experimentation. But this sense of competitors is frustratingly at odds with an issue-of-the-week format that expects artists to trend topical (and legible) work on demand.

Contestants are judged for his or her originality, high quality of execution and power of idea — a set of standards so common that it’s primarily worthless. In the primary crit, that includes works about gender, Misha Kahn is dinged for an excessively formidable resin sculpture of a banana (“a novelty toy,” says Schachter). Visibly unimpressed, Pendleton dismisses Jamaal Barber’s vaguely Cubist charcoal portrait of a two-gendered sitter as “redundant,” and knocks Jillian Mayer’s olfactory work that off-gasses hormones for failing to “activate the space.” Not solely is that this acquainted criticism, but it surely additionally presents no sense of imaginative and prescient and trajectory to its topics. If “The Exhibit’s” personal judges don’t even purchase the present’s promise that the museum can play kingmaker for a brand new class of artists, why ought to we?

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Each competitor might have been granted $100,000 for lower than the manufacturing funds, and the present’s money prize doesn’t even match “Work of Art’s” accounting for inflation. Baseera Khan, “The Exhibit’s” most established artist, already had a well-received solo exhibition on the Brooklyn Museum. What do they stand to achieve? The prize exhibition is barely a single work: the winner’s sixth fee for the season finale. While that’s hardly the “exhibit of a lifetime” promised within the trailer, the shrine to the spectacle is bound to be, in Pongo’s phrases, “career defining.”

‘The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist’

Where: MTV

When: 10 p.m. Friday


Rating: TV-14 (could also be unsuitable for kids underneath the age of 14)