I missed the first episode of the BBC Wales series The Exhibitionists, having not realised that the BBC i player showed it until too late.
In a nutshell, 5 members of the public have 2 experts put them through a series of art based hoops, remove one each week, then the remaining 2 contestants put on exhibitions. I had my doubts when I first heard about it. On the one hand, inviting the public in, showing some of the processes and thoughts behind exhibition planning, creating a dialogue. On the other hand, using the popularist reality voting off method to create tension and viewer emotional buy in. Having seen an episode now, I feel quite mixed, erring to the “oh what a shame” end of the spectrum.
Firstly, let us put aside "this might be the first time that a UK museum has allowed members of the public to put on their own exhibition" which ignores a great many efforts made by institutions working with thier local communities.
The contestants seem to have been selected from a set list of archetypes. Young punky type with odd hair, solid working class bloke, ambitious quirkily dressed woman, lovely smart gay gentleman (the fifth chap was voted off in the first episode, so no idea what he was like) Somehow each person manages to be presented in a way that makes them slightly slapable. Editing may be doing it but I suspect each person has been very much chosen as a good type for TV entertainment, and thus is a touch Marmite.
In this episode they were working as a group to rehang an exhibition removed and mixed in with some red herrings, and then matching five works of art to five statements. The viewer does pick up some interesting points. The experts discuss choices such as space when hanging pieces, and comment that even some experts would struggle with the second task. Also plenty of narrator comments about what the art is, what it represents, why it was controversial/ important etc. Good moments nudging art facts at the viewer to raise their interest in the subject.
Sadly, offering a website where viewers can find out more about the art doesn’t quite rescue this show for me. I just can’t quite figure out who this is aimed at. Those already interested in art may find the handling of the format grating, those who enjoy a reality competition type show may find the artsy asides pointless. It’s not a bad show, it’s simply an odd match. I suspect it will encourage more people to check out the National Museum of Wales, and will make them look around the art galleries a little differently, so a positive outcome. Albeit with an itchy feeling that the TV format has overpowered a potentially excellent show.
If anyone else has seen this, what did you think?
As an aside, watching this show you may think that all curators all wear white gloves all the time, you know, because you might have to handle some art really suddenly.
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