Are You Ready for a New Art-World Reality Show? Say Hello to ‘The Exhibit,’ a Paint-Spattered Contest Where the Prize Is a Major Museum Survey

'The Exhibit' will air on MTV and the Smithsonian Channel.

Artists Clare Kambhu, Frank Buffalo Hyde, Jennifer Warren, Baseera Khan, Jillian Mayer, Misha Kahn, and Jamaal Barber enter the Hirshhorn’s collection storage unit to compete in The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist. Photo by Shannon Finney, courtesy of the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., is taking an unconventional approach to curating its next solo show: the institution is picking the artist through a reality TV competition.

Titled The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist, the new series from MTV and the Smithsonian Channel will run six episodes, pitting seven young artists against one for the chance to show their work at the Hirshhorn. On MTV, it will air following RuPaul’s Drag Race.

The museum’s director, Melissa Chiu, will judge each competition alongside a rotating panel of art world notables including Adam Pendleton, JiaJia Fei, Abigail DeVille, and Artnet News contributor Kenny Schachter. The host is Dometi Pongo, an MTV News correspondent best known for the network’s docuseries True Life Crime.

The contestants, who will make work about a given theme in each week’s challenge, are Jamaal Barber, Frank Buffalo HydeBaseera KhanMisha KahnClare KambhuJillian Mayer, and Jennifer Warren.


The new series comes over a decade after the last major competitive art reality show, Bravo’s Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, which aired for two seasons in 2010 and 2011. Winners Abdi Farah and Kymia Nawabi won a solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum (or what the show was contractually obligated to call “the world-famous Brooklyn Museum”) and a cash prize of $100,000.

Work of Art featured New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz and dealers Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and Bill Powers as judges, as well as auctioneer (and future Artnet News contributor) Simon de Pury as the contestants’ mentor. Host China Chow’s elimination catch phrase was “your work of art doesn’t work for us.”

The short-lived series’ most successful alumni is most likely Amanda Williams, who finished last in season one, but went on to win a 2022 MacArthur grant. She is known for her 2015 Chicago Architecture Biennial project Color(ed) Theory, in which she repainted eight abandoned homes in the city in bright colors to draw attention to neglect of traditionally Black neighborhoods. With Olalekan Jeyifous, Williams is designing Brooklyn’s monument to Shirley Chisholm, as part of the city’s She Built NYC initiative to commission public sculptures of historic women.

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