I know the finale of MTV and the Smithsonian Channel’s The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist aired over a week ago, but after experiencing my own great disappointment with the series, I was left with a burning question: Who was actually watching this show? Was anyone? I might just be the only person still talking about The Exhibit, as data from Nielsen Media Company indicated that most of the show’s episodes stood below six-figures in terms of live viewership upon airing.
Equipped with this data, I set out to see how the reality show ranked in comparison to two shows from a decade past that could arguably be described as its predecessors: Bravo TV’s own Gallery Girls (2012) and Work of Art: The Next Great Artist (2010–2011). Spoiler alert: Both of them blew The Exhibit out of the water.
The first episode of The Exhibit was the most successful of the entire season in terms of ratings, drawing a whopping ~184,000 viewers for the premiere. Definitely not a great start, but considering the show was afforded the graveyard slot of 10pm on Fridays, it was simply fated to have a low viewership from the get-go. However, not even Misha Kahn’s inflatable banana sculpture was enough to maintain the audience’s interest as the second episode‘s viewership was down 50%, reaping only ~92,000 viewers … Yikes.
The following three episodes leading up to The Exhibit’s finale hovered below the six-figure mark, though the fourth episode, which I found the most boring out of all of them (and that’s saying something), amassed around 95,000 viewers. To my surprise, the penultimate episode where the artists reimagine a past work had the least number of viewers across the series: ~62,000. I suppose I can’t blame the ~33,000 viewers who decided to throw in the towel after the fourth episode that had possessed the excitement level of a hospital waiting room.
The Exhibit’s finale broke the six-figure mark with ~111,000 viewers, but that was no lucky number, as that was still 40% fewer viewers compared to the premiere. Yes, that was approximately 111,000 of us who watched and probably cringed collectively while Kenny Shachter attempted to whistle.
Media contacts for The Exhibit have not yet responded to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment regarding the ratings data provided by Nielsen.
On the other hand, Bravo TV’s 2012 single-season Gallery Girls had an average viewership of at least five times that of The Exhibit’s finale episode. Gallery Girls, following the careers and personal lives of seven women in their early-to-mid-twenties working in the art world between Manhattan and Brooklyn, premiered with just over half a million viewers tuning in, according to Nielsen. That same number of viewers stuck around for the second episode, and the show maintained a pretty consistent viewership with some small dips and jumps. Slotted for Monday nights, Gallery Girls was in direct competition with season 15 of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on the Food Network, ABC Family’s Switched at Birth, and Oxygen’s The Bad Girls Club.
Bravo TV’s Work of Art: The Next Great Artist appears to be the blueprint for The Exhibit considering that the latter pretty much co-opted the subtitle. The stakes of the 2010 show were nearly identical to that of The Exhibit: 14 up-and-coming artists compete for a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum and a $100,000 grand prize. The only data available for Work of Art’s viewership were the first and second season’s average audience and both of the finales’ total audiences. The first season that aired in 2010 had a rather consistent rating of over a million viewers per episode, with the finale garnering nearly 1.5 million viewers. The second season was somewhat less successful overall as the show lost a little over a quarter of its original viewers, but the season finale rounded out with a generous ~781,000 viewers before Bravo pulled the plug.
So with the premise of The Exhibit copying that of Work of Art to a T, why was it so flopular while the other was popular? Well, for starters, artists actually got eliminated in Work of Art, so that was probably a huge component. Work of Art also had some more prominent “celebrity” guest judges including art critic Jerry Saltz, artist Liz Cohen, photographer Mary Ellen Mark, actor and executive producer Sarah Jessica Parker, and Andres Serrano, known for his controversial and sometimes offensive takes.
All in all, the lesson is clear: If you’re going to copy off of someone else’s sheet, make sure you get it right or you’ll just look silly. At this stage, a second season of the show has not been announced, thank god.