Artist Clare Kambhu, one of the contestants in the new reality TV show The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist (all images courtesy Paramount)

Looking for something to fill the void once season nine of the reality TV show Love Island UK finishes? Well, now you can watch seven contemporary artists from across the United States compete for a $100,000 cash prize and a chance to exhibit their work at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gardens in Washington, DC, through a novel reality TV show called The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist. Set to premiere on March 3, The Exhibit is looking beyond the museum’s walls to attract vast audiences by riding the current wave of affinity for reality competition shows.

Across six episodes, artists Jamaal Barber, Baseera Khan, Frank Buffalo Hyde, Clare Kambhu, Jillian Mayer, Misha Kahn, and Jennifer Warren will create their own interpretative commission works inspired by the existing works in the Hirschhorn’s permanent collections. Lead judge and museum director Melissa Chiu will headline the panel with a series of rotating guest judges such as artists Adam Pendleton and Abigail DeVille, digital strategist JiaJia Fei, critic Kenny Schachter, and several others.

“As the national museum of modern and contemporary art, the Hirshhorn is committed to finding new ways to connect people with the art and artists of our time,” Chiu said in a statement to Hyperallergic. “Integrating our community of artists, art experts and museum-goers with the combined 100 million American households that have access to MTV and the Smithsonian Channel radically expands our reach.”

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At face value, the trailer indicates that The Exhibit follows the typical formula of a reality competition: MTV News’s Dometi Pongo serves as the show’s seasoned host, the episodes will manipulate our adrenaline and emotions through dramatic sound effects and song choices, and each of the seven artists will come into the competition with a special background and message to share through their practice, determined to be America’s Next Top Artist, so to speak.

The Exhibit was developed in partnership with MTV Studios, Paramount, Smithsonian Channel, and PB&J TV + Docs and will show exclusively on MTV and the Smithsonian Channel. Considering the museum’s mission to make contemporary art “radically accessible to a vast audience,” it seems like a missed opportunity to not provide any modes of streaming the show online considering how many people, especially students, don’t really use cable TV anymore.

Left to right: Dometi Pongo, Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu, Adam Pendleton, and Kenny Schachter

One thing that stands out for me is that unlike what we see in Tyra Banks’s cutthroat competition scape, the judging panel for The Exhibit won’t be picking off the artists from the pool one-by-one with psychologically damaging criticisms (looking at you, Janice Dickinson). The group of seven artists will remain on the show for all six creation rounds and high-profile guest critiques. We can only hope that the non-elimination approach is better thought out this time around compared to how it panned out in Jeffrey Deitch’s 2006 reality TV attempt Artstar, which prioritized the artist over the art.

The Exhibit will premiere on MTV at 9pm EST on Friday, March 3, and will re-air on the Smithsonian Channel at the same time on March 7.

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Rhea Nayyar

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...

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