Standing up for the selfie

Standing up for the selfie

Only rarely does writing about the arts really rile me. But today I read two pieces on the same topic that I regard as nostalgic, ignorant and elitist twaddle. The topic is the relaxation of the ban on photography for personal use at the National Gallery. The twaddle comes from Sarah Crompton, arts editor of the Telegraph, and from Michael Savage who blogs as Grumpy Art Historian (and who also has other issues with the gallery). In their respective articles Why you shouldn’t take photos in galleries and Trivialising the National Gallery, both express the view that permitting people to take photographs of great paintings that they own (if, that is, they are UK citizens) is a Bad Thing. I want instead to suggest that what is Bad about all of this is the exclusive and patronising attitudes both writers display towards the rest of us.
Read more »

Lord K, once more

Lord K, once more

The Tate Britain exhibition Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation closes tomorrow, Sunday 10 August. I remain thrilled to have contributed to this by curating the television extracts and writing a catalogue essay about the television programmes that Clark made for ATV between 1958 and 1966. To mark the end of this fascinating – and beautiful – display (curated by Chris Stephens and John-Paul Stonard) about a profoundly influential figure in twentieth century culture I am republishing an expanded version of a blog post that rounds up reactions to the show.
Read more »

A ’52 TV ‘experiment in abstract art’

A ’52 TV ‘experiment in abstract art’

At 10.15pm on Wednesday 10 September 1952, just after an edition of the fortnightly film review show Current Release, BBC Television broadcast a 15-minute programme titled Shapes and Sounds. In its listing pages Radio Times described the transmission as ‘an experiment in light and music’, while the ‘Talk of the Week’ column explained that it was ‘designed to explore the possibilities of light patterns on the television screen’. Shapes and Sounds was produced by Christian Simpson, a fascinating figure from the early days of television, and he worked on the show with a group of artists including Rocky Stone, John Keen, Bruce Lacey, Alexis Key and Ivor Broughton.

Media studies records artists beginning to work with television in the 1960s (in the United States) and ’70s (over here). So this little discovery, which I believe is all-but-unknown to scholars (and of course no recording exists), will help re-write the history books. But perhaps it has another lesson for us as well, as the Sunday Times critic Maurice Wiggin suggested:  ’The fact that (in my opinion) the experiment [of Shapes and Sounds] did not succeed is not important. What matters is that the television authorities had the nerve to let Mr Simpson “have a go”.’
Read more »

Lord K

Lord K

Tate Britain this week has opened the exhibition Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation, which runs until 10 August. There is no sense that I can be impartial about the show, given that I contributed by curating the television extracts (which my Illuminations colleague Todd MacDonald compiled) and writing a catalogue essay about the television programmes that Clark made for ATV between 1958 and 1966. But let me say that I think it’s a completely fascinating – and beautiful – display about a profoundly influential figure in twentieth century culture.

I have long been interested in ‘K’ (as he was always known to his friends) and back in 1993 I directed a BBC documentary about his life and ideas. Twenty years on I have contributed to a new film about him, produced by Kate Misrahi and screening on BBC Two on 31 May (thoughts on that to follow). Here I want to draw together a range of resources about and responses to the exhibition, and over the coming days I will add to this as other pieces appear. I also intend to write further about the choice of extracts included in the exhibition and about the many remarkable art objects that the curators Chris Stephens and John-Paul Stonard have drawn together.
Read more »

Television at the Summer Exhibition, 1939

Television at the Summer Exhibition, 1939

Remarkably, astonishingly, the image agency Getty Images has announced a new initiative to allow the embedding of many of its photographs for non-commercial use in blogs (like this one) and social media channels. A simple new embed tool permits the legal use of more than 35 million images as long as the attribution is included along with a link back to Getty for commercial licensing.

This feels like a game-changing project and I want to reflect on it further in a future post. But I thought to mark the news I would highlight just one image from the Getty millions. Browsing the site, and with my current interests in early television and the arts, I found the glorious shot below of a pre-war television broadcast from the Royal Academy. Getty currently has it catalogued in this way:

circa 1939: A BBC television crew filming artist A K Lawrence varnishing a painting of Queen Elizabeth and her troops at the Royal Academy, Burlington House, London. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

I am fairly sure that in fact it relates to the broadcast titled Television Surveys… No 9 at 2.30pm on 24 April 1939. The Radio Times billing is above, and this describes the programme as ‘a visit with Edward Halliday to the galleries at Burlington House to see some of the exhibitors putting final touches to their pictures and sculpture.’ Halliday (1902-1984) was primarily a portrait painter – and you can find 79 images of his work at Your Paintings here. A. K. Lawrence (1893-1975) had been elected as a Royal Academician the year before the broadcast – and there are 33 Your Paintings canvases by him here, including Queen Elizabeth I at Tilbury, 1588, which you can see in the photograph. This huge canvas is apparently now in the collection of Essex County Council – I wonder if it’s on show anywhere.

Don’t make me laugh, Penguin Books

Don’t make me laugh, Penguin Books

Until yesterday’s Guardian article by Gareth Rubin I regret to say that I had not heard of the artist Miriam Elia and her totally delightful website Learning with Miriam. I had, however, seen several of her smart art parodies of Ladybird Books popping up in my Twitter feed. My favourite was the one in which the cover illustration above is accompanied by a facing page of text that reads

There is nothing in the room.
Peter is confused.
Jane is confused.
Mummy is happy.

‘There is nothing in the room because God is dead,’ says Mummy.
‘Oh dear,’ says Peter.

Miriam produced 1,000 copies of her We go to the gallery book and was selling them for £20 each when the m’learned friends from Penguin Books descended and told her she was infringing their copyright. Now she is allowed only to sell enough copies to cover her initial costs and must then cease and desist from making us laugh and making us think and making the world just a little better with her art. What is even weirder, what she is doing may not infringe copyright in a month’s time – and it almost certainly would not be an infringement in the United States, Canada, France and elsewhere.
Read more »

Move it

Move it

We have just completed a short film for Christie’s which has gone online this morning. The film showcases Turn Me On: European and Latin American Kinetic Art, 1948-1979a private selling exhibition at Christie’s Mayfair until 7 April. More details are here along with an online version of the catalogue. It’s a really delightful and stimulating show – and entry is free at 103 New Bond Street, London W1S 1ST.

The film was produced and directed for Illuminations over the past five days by Linda Zuck, with Nicole Mandell as production assistant, Ian Serfontein as director of photography and Tor Kristoffersen as editor.

Image: Marina Apollonio, Dinamica Circolare 9B, 1969, on display at Turn Me On.

Still here and now

Still here and now

On his blog Modern Art Notes the smart, provocative and always readable critic Tyler Green publishes The Monday Checklist, an invaluable weekly round-up of the visual arts. He notes new reviews, highlights Twitter and Tumblr feeds and draws attention to interesting print and digital publications. In this week’s post he links to the new online site 1959: The Albright-Knox Art Gallery Exhibition Recreated – and here I want simply to underscore Tyler Green’s recommendation and muse a bit on why I think the 1959 presentation is so interesting. First, here’s some background in the form of a film that accompanies 1959, but if you’ve never heard of Clyfford Still it might be worth reading the Wikipedia entry before watching:


Read more »

REM-arkable

REM-arkable

For the past several years I have been delighted to contribute some classes to the MA course in Critical Writing in Art and Design at the Royal College of Art. With the course leader Professor David Crowley, the students and I explore examples of screen-based media about the visual arts, many of which are drawn from British television. So we look at recognised classics like Civilisation, Ways of Seeing and Pop Goes the Easel (see yesterday’s post) as well as perhaps less obvious programmes like State of the Art and A Bigger Splash. For the fourth of my classes I ask the students to present an example of web-based video that they find interesting, and today one of them contributed this trailer for REM, a documentary about the architect Rem Koolhaas, which is being made by his son Tomas (there’s an Arch Daily interview with him here, with further details about the project). It’s a terrific short film, surprising and beautiful and imaginative, and a very original way of engaging with the spaces of a building (which is the Casa da Musica, Porto, above in an image from OMA).

OFFICIAL TRAILER FOR ‘REM’ DOCUMENTARY from tomas koolhaas on Vimeo.

The only blonde in the world

The only blonde in the world

To the always delightful Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, to catch the exhibition Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman before it closes on Sunday. This is a show from Wave in Wolverhampton and it travels on, slightly strangely, to the also delightful Muzeum Szutki in Lodz, Poland, which owns Boty’s My Colouring Book, 1963, one of the paintings on show. Pauline Boty was an artist and sometime actress who before her death at the age of 28 in 1966 painted works now seen as key to the story of British Pop art. But for many years she was all-but forgotten, and her rediscovery is an essential part of the story that co-curator Sue Tate tells in the valuable catalogue. The show is displayed in just two small rooms and it’s most definitely worth the trip, but what I want to do here is to collect together a handful of the traces and writings about Boty so that you can undertake your own journey through her work and life. Essential exhibit no 1. is Pop Goes the Easel, directed by Ken Russell in 1962 for BBC Television’s Monitor:


Read more »