Still from The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist, 2023. Courtesy of Paramount.
One defining format of 21st-century culture has been competitive reality television. From RuPaul’s Drag Race to Project Runway, these shows have a familiar rhythm, asking competitors to apply their skills to a huge range of creative challenges to determine a weekly winner. Despite its natural compatibility with reality TV (both have high stakes, big ideas, and even bigger personalities), the art world has barely crossed paths with the format. With the exception of the short-lived show Work of Art: the Next Great Artist (2010–11) on Bravo and a pandemic-era series for London artists called Next Big Thing, no reality competition show has delved into the high-stakes tension of producing work for an institutional exhibition—until now.
On March 3rd, MTV will debut The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist, a new reality competition show that brings together seven American artists to compete for a presentation at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and a cash prize of $100,000. This partnership with the Hirshhorn means that weekly challenges will be inspired by the museum’s collection. Hirshhorn director Melissa Chiu will also co-host the show alongside Dometi Pongo of MTV News.
Portrait of Melissa Chiu, 2023. Courtesy of Paramount.
Portrait of Dometi Pongo, 2023. Courtesy of Paramount.
“Our partnership with MTV and Smithsonian Channel connects the Hirshhorn’s collection and art-for-everyone ethos with a national audience wherever they are, at home or on screens,” said Chiu. “The docuseries invites viewers to witness how artists transform ideas into concrete and original responses.” Chiu also hopes that the show will highlight the importance of artmaking to a wider audience: “Over six episodes, this series presents seven rising artists from all over the country, documenting their creative process in real time. It emphasizes the significance of an artist’s role within society.”
Just before The Exhibit premieres this Friday, Artsy asked the artists to share what they are excited for viewers to learn about their practice over the next six weeks.
B. 1980, Richmond, Virginia. Lives and works in Atlanta.
Portrait of Jamaal Barber, 2023. Courtesy of Paramount.
Jamaal Barber’s vibrant prints of Black people convey the multitude of expressions of Black culture. For Barber, these motifs, such as textile patterns and hair texture, are cultural marks that inform public perceptions of Blackness. “I’m excited to be a part of this show with a great group of amazing artists,” he said. “To have the possibility of being associated with an institution like the Hirshhorn is worth it alone. I’m always looking to push myself to the next level and this is definitely about moving to the next level.” The artist received his MFA in printmaking from Georgia State University.
B. 1988, Cleveland, Ohio. Lives and works in Chicago.
Portrait of Jennifer Warren, 2023. Courtesy of Paramount.
Though she works in many genres of painting, Jennifer Warren’s most recent oil works vividly capture the quotidian experiences of women of color in domestic settings. “A lot of work went into producing The Exhibit and I am beyond excited for the first episode to premiere,” she said. “When I was cast on the show, at first I thought it was too good to be true, but I decided to go along with it anyway. Once reality sunk in, I saw this as a big opportunity for representation as a Black woman, emerging artist, and oil painter,” she told Artsy. The show, for Warren, who is primarily self-taught, is about much more than the competition—rather, it’s a chance for her work to represent Black femmes across the nation.
“I knew I would need to be vulnerable to the process and release any fears and doubts I had about the competition aspect. I felt the most important thing was for others who look like me and have a similar life story to mine to see me existing in this space. That became the purpose that fueled my eagerness to participate in the show and give 100% of myself the entire time,” Warren added.
B. 1974, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Lives and works in Northfield, Minnesota.
Portrait of Frank Buffalo Hyde, 2023. Courtesy of Paramount.
Frank Buffalo Hyde’s paintings reflect contemporary Indigenous life rendered through satirical and Pop sensibilities. The artist, who is of Onondaga/Niimíipuu (Nez Perce) heritage, has work in the public collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the Everson Museum of Art.
Hyde told Artsy that he “was honored to be selected to participate in the show for the simple fact that this group of artists is curated…that is to say we were selected on the strength of our work.” For him, too, representation was an important reason to participate in the series: “I saw it as an opportunity to increase the visibility of contemporary Indigenous artists.”
B. 1988, New York. Lives and works in New York.
Portrait of Clare Kambhu, 2023. Courtesy of Paramount.
Artist and arts educator Clare Kambhu is a painter whose works highlight experiences of her everyday life as a teacher, either abstracting or magnifying simple objects: a seat chair, or the inside of a forgotten drawer, for example. “My work centers on education and its inherent evaluative tracking mechanisms,” said Kambhu, who was interested in how the context of the show would impact her work.“I was curious to see how my paintings would shift in response to the format of reality TV—one that places competition and its constraints front and center.”
Kambhu’s work has been exhibited at institutions such as the Bronx Museum of Arts and ArtSpace. She received a BFA in studio art and MA in art education from New York University. Kambhu additionally has an MFA from the Yale School of Art.
B. 1989, Duluth, Minnesota. Lives and works in New York.
Portrait of Misha Kahn, 2023. Courtesy of Paramount.
“I did the show as a wild, slightly deranged, contemporary version of an artist residency,” Misha Kahn told Artsy. The New York–based artist’s kaleidoscopic, furniture-like sculptures send the viewer on a psychedelic odyssey drawing on the language of design as much as art. With its whimsical color palette and off-kilter shapes, his work wouldn’t look out of place in the cinematic landscape of Tim Burton. Kahn has exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Arts and Design, the Dallas Museum of Art, and many others.
B. 1984, Miami. Lives and works in Miami.
Portrait of Jillian Mayer, 2023. Courtesy of Paramount.
The themes of multimedia artist Jillian Mayer’s practice are particularly well-suited to The Exhibit. After all, the artist, who works across video, sculpture, photography, performance, web-based experiences, and installation, examines how physical realities are mediated through digital and mass-media technologies. Quoting Nietzsche, Mayer said, “‘When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you’…I choose to enter it.” For Mayer, her experience on the show holds an additional value: “I am excited to mine this content for future media projects in the future,” she said.
Mayer’s work has been screened in the Sundance Film Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, NY Film Festival, and South by Southwest Film Festival. She has a BFA from Florida International University, and her work has been featured in exhibitions internationally at institutions including Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Pérez Art Museum Miami, and MoMA PS1, among others.
B. 1980, Denton, Texas. Lives and works in New York.
Portrait of Baseera Khan, 2023. Courtesy of Paramount.
For Baseera Khan, The Exhibit is the culmination of a long-standing interest in television. “Since 2020 I have been working on a six-part series called By Faith that I call an ‘experimental TV show,’” they said. “There was a moment in 2021 when I hit a wall with the process and wished upon a star to find a way to meet producers and people in TV. My wish came true, in a strange way,” they told Artsy.
Khan’s multidisciplinary practice includes performance, video, textiles, collage, and photography and seeks to unpack the relationship between labor and spirituality on the body. Their work has been exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, SculptureCenter, and the Aspen Art Museum, among other institutions. For Khan, this is an exciting opportunity to share their work with their social circle and beyond. “Despite my high level of anxiety around the show, I am feeling good vibes, and can’t wait to share this hard work with my family, friends, and followers.”
Ayanna Dozier is Artsy’s Staff Writer.