‘The Exhibit’ Mixes High-Caliber Art With Shameless Self-Promotion

MTV isn’t the first network to tap artists for reality TV—just the latest.

Melissa Chiu, Director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, announces the 2022 Hirshhorn Ball Artist-Honoree award in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on May 20, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Shannon Finney/Getty Images)
Melissa Chiu, Director of the Hirshhorn Museum, plays a prominent role in ‘The Exhibit’ Getty Images

On March 3rd MTV and the Hirshhorn Museum aired the first of six episodes of The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist, a docuseries featuring seven visual artists competing for a $100,000 prize as well as an exhibit at the famed Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. 

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Artists in The Exhibit include Baseera Khan, who had a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum in 2021 and won the coveted Uvo Prize. The judges are also impressive, with Maryland Institute College of Art president Samuel Hoi, critic and artist Kenny Schachter, and writer Sarah Thornton. Hosts Dometi Pongo and Melissa Chiu (Hirshhorn museum director) bring in larger social themes as the artists create works inspired by the Hirshhorn’s collection of contemporary artists, including Laurie Anderson, Mark Bradford, the Guerilla Girls, Barbara Kruger, Yayoi Kusama, and Nam June Paik. 

SEE ALSO: Astoundingly Human: An Interview with Artist Hannah Beerman

In the first episode, the group peruses the Hirshhorn after hours, exploring the museum’s vast collection including Mark Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge (2017), Laurie Anderson’s The Weather (2021), and Barbara Kruger’s Belief + Doubt (2012). Exciting? Yes. Shameless promotion for the Hirshhorn? Also yes.

Of course, MTV isn’t the first network to tap artists for reality TV. The Exhibit is just the latest to use the art world as a base.

Bravo’s short-lived Work of Art: The Next Great Artist featured 14 people over two seasons, beginning in 2010, following a similar premise with a cash prize of $100,000 and a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. Contestants ranged in age and occupation. Though many were not directly involved in the commercial art world, all of them made art: a fry-cook-turned-photographer, an abstract-painter-architect-professor, and a landlord-mixed-media-artist. Viewers may remember New York Magazine art critic and Pulitzer winner Jerry Saltz, who served as a judge. 

Another brainchild of Bravo producers, Gallery Girls followed seven women looking to make it in the competitive art gallery system of NYC. The show lasted one season (2012) and documented the trials and tribulations of these young women as they attempted to juggle work, social lives, dating, and other struggles. 

What sets The Exhibit apart from Work of Art and Gallery Girls is the caliber of artists who have been chosen to compete—positioning itself differently in this larger group of art reality shows that have cropped up over the last sixteen years. 

‘The Exhibit’ Mixes High-Caliber Art With Shameless Self-Promotion