We’re halfway through the Hirshhorn and the MTVs The exhibition: Finding the next great artist, and while the latest episode, which aired tonight at 10 p.m. EST, was more tolerable, the formula is tired and tied down even more by the syrupy sweet competitors and the benign critique sessions. Contrary to what we see in America’s Next Top Model, it seems like everyone came here to make friends, which, while cute, isn’t really good TV. (Warning: Some spoilers below!)
In episode three, Hirshhorn director Melissa Chiu and show host Dometi Pongo tasked the artists with developing a “commission” (what they call the artwork created for each contest…lol) that responds to the coronavirus pandemic, specifically “how you survive, or maybe even thriving at this moment.” But not before Chiu hit several hot buttons on the keyboard for relevant virtue signaling by talking about an exhibit she co-curated during the early pandemic and shoehorning in a Shirin Neshat reference.
In this round, the artists were again given 10 hours of studio time over two days, but only a few delivered. As expected, self-taught painter Jennifer Warren found a huge canvas to use for another half-finished painting that could have been amazing with an extra week of work, and Jillian Mayer created another amorphous, muddy colored blob sculpture. Although Mayer’s competition works are fairly uniform in style, she plays with scale and function in the background, and she used fungi as an anchor for biodegradation and connection concepts in this commission.
Jamaal Barber finally thrived on the line between concept and technique in this episode, but I have to admit that the scene of his emotional breakdown over the loss of his mentor, George Nock, felt really rushed and a bit off-color. I’m sure it was edited by the producers with the intention of peeling back the layers of masculinity and embracing the processing of emotions, but I felt it inappropriately made a spectacle of his grief in a way that doesn’t match the show itself. -established moral high grounds. However, it was endearing to see the rest of the contestants hold Barber up and empathize with him.
This week’s guest judges were art writer and sociologist Sarah Thornton, who sits in between Paula Abdul i american idol and Deborah Czeresko from Blown away on the Crit-O-Meter, and returning judge Kenny Shachter, who is there for reasons I have yet to identify. I actually found myself agreeing more with the judges’ ratings in this episode compared to the last two.
I thought Clare Kambhu’s series of abstract paintings were really beautiful and it was exciting to see more of her as an artist rather than an educator, but I think she had a unique perspective on the school system during the pandemic and it was a missed opportunity to explore the effects of social distancing and disrupted learning on his students.
As the absolute best of the series, Misha Kahn won some points for his Yves Tanguy x SOPHIE lovechild virtual reality painting that married the solitude of his digital practice with the chaos of a family dinner in Minnesota, leaving me confused as to why he didn’t. use the VR headset for the social media challenge in the first place. Baseera Khan’s incomplete and uncomfortable-looking quilt garnered only a bit of milquetoast criticism, and the judges quickly moved past Frank Buffalo Hyde’s abstract Haudenosaunee flag painting, much to my disappointment.
The overly chipper extra supporting cast dynamic dissolves any real competitive elements from the show, and Chiu’s bland camera presence and Hillary Clinton’s signature smile-and-stare combo don’t help stimulate any tension either (besides overwhelming discomfort on my part). It just feels like there’s no real effort here despite a huge prize and sought-after showcase opportunity. I think maybe a more aggressive guest judge could help light the fire the show so desperately needs… Anyone have Deborah Czeresko’s contact info?
For a six-episode show, I was hoping the third episode would stir the pot a little more, but all we got was an uncomfortable scene where Barber processed grief by tossing aside a stool. The show hinted at a co-op challenge that I hope comes to fruition in the next episode or two, but for now I’m still underwhelmed and fighting for more screen time and flowers for Frank Buffalo Hyde.