The penultimate episode of MTV’s The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist was the one that may have made this arduous journey worth it in the end. I wouldn’t call it a 10/10, but it was significantly more engaging than the fourth episode that almost drove me to sleep sitting up. I think that the show’s editors finally ignited the spark of mindless reality TV enjoyability combined with educational content and even highlighted some much-needed humorous moments.
This week’s challenge had the artists select an earlier work of theirs that best portrayed their skills and focus at the time and reinterpret it to showcase how their practices have evolved and what the future holds for them. While this “commission” was giving undergraduate art school application home test, I think every artist actually knocked this one out of the park in a way that was interesting and even exciting. Episode five’s guest judges were sculptor and installation artist Abigail DeVille and Hirshhorn trustee, collector, and retired NFL player Keith Rivers.
While the competitive element remained absent, the fifth episode was infused with tangible chemistry between the artists and the judges. The bar was set pretty low, but there were actually a few funny interactions that brought the show back to life. At one point during the studio time, the judges paid a visit to Jillian Mayer while she had her head shoved underneath a blanket to record a sound bite for an interactive part of her installation which was equal parts ridiculous and relatable. Misha Kahn was running around like a chicken without a head in the last hour of work time too, but I haven’t decided if I was laughing at him or with him at that moment yet. Most likely a bit of both …
Baseera Khan reinterpreted a work of theirs called “Air Duct,” choosing to consider the internal structure of the human body instead of that of a building. Khan’s commission referenced the changes and anxieties that come with the large ovarian cyst they’ve been diagnosed with by using space and material to apply a stifling pressure on human “skin” made from foam. As a “cyster” myself (two ovarian cysts ruptured, one removed surgically), Khan’s commission definitely struck a chord with me in terms of conveying that specific anxiety of not knowing when the next cyst could pop suddenly, causing an immediate onset of blinding pain that’s been likened to a ruptured appendix. There really is a palpable pressure of the cyst pressing up against one’s insides that’s a largely overlooked and ignored symptom as well.
Jennifer Warren actually made a finished-looking painting and it was half decent, though her portrayal of technological frustration read a bit Boomer-y to me. The kicker is that she actually had enough time to help out Misha this episode, so maybe she finally learned to manage her time and painting expectations before it’s too late.
Misha’s commission revisited a claymation video he made when he was around 10 years old which I thought was really tender. Having taught art to that age group, I’m so thankful that my parents kept almost all of my artwork from elementary school to revisit and map out my sustained interests, so it was very sweet to see him reflect on that. I think his virtual reality works are less frivolous and branded than his inflatables and other installation projects, allowing us to see more of himself rather than this ostentatious, exaggerated character he puts on when taking up physical rather than emotional space.
While this was an immeasurable improvement compared to the first four episodes, the show’s editors are still pretty heavy-handed in alluding to who would win the commission through the cutaway interviews and camera focus. I was also less inclined to laugh at the actually funny stuff from this episode because everyone else on the show would laugh almost maniacally when it happened — almost like when your parent tells you to clean your room when you were just about to and because they said something you don’t want to do it anymore out of petulant annoyance. All things considered, this was a decent last stop before the end of an extremely niche and largely anticlimactic journey, and I really have no clue who will walk away with the prize next week.