Sixty for ’51, part 3 #60for51

Sixty for ’51, part 3   #60for51

I have started a quest to find all of the 54 paintings and 12 sculptures included in the Festival of Britain Sixty Paintings for ’51 (see previous posts here and here). My second blog post about this discussed four paintings that were purchased by The Arts Council, which organised the show, and later donated to regional galleries. There was also a fifth, William Gear’s Autumn Landscape (1951) which I have found is in the collection of the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle which acquired it as a gift in 1952 (detail above, with the full painting across the jump). I got to it via another, closely related painting by William Gear, also called Autumn Landscape, which is in the collection of National Galleries Scotland. The description of this work gives an inkling of the story behind the one included in the exhibition:

This is one of several paintings Gear completed in the autumn of 1950. A similar but larger work also titled Autumn Landscape was painted for the Festival of Britain show Sixty Painters for ‘51 in 1951. Although awarded the Arts Council purchase prize, it was denounced by the president of the Royal Academy, Sir Alfred Munnings, who deemed it as a ‘scheming, self-conscious, anglicised, fifty-year old repetition of the École de Paris’.
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Sixty for ’51, part 2 #60for51

Sixty for ’51, part 2     #60for51

Yesterday’s post introduced an exhibition organised by The Arts Council for the Festival of Britain in 1951. The show featured 54 paintings, together with a number of sculptures, requested from many of the prominent artists of the day. Each of the paintings, which it was stipulated had to be ‘large’ (that is, at least 45 x 60 inches), is illustrated (excepting only Francis Bacon’s contribution) in black and white in a slim catalogue, which otherwise has only a single page Foreword by Philip James of The Arts Council.

The collection was an intended snapshot of the visual arts at the key moment of post-war reconstruction, assembled as James wrote,’in the hope of handing down to posterity from our present age something tangible and of permanent value.’ So how has posterity so far treated this initiative? What has happened to each of the works and where can they be found now? That’s what I aim to find out over the coming months.
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Time and The Space

Time and The Space

Time, most definitely, to return to The Space, the Arts Council England/BBC digital ‘pop-up’ that, in its present form at least, will be with us for only another three months. Indeed, this is exactly the half-way point for the announced project, although it is almost certain to continue in some form. In the Arts Council’s recently published document ‘Creative media policy’ (link: download), £8 million is set aside for funding the future phase of the project. In the now unlikely event that it disappears entirely – and heaven forfend – we most definitely won’t know what we’ve got ’til it’s gone. Some licences and rights deals, however, will expire at the end of October. So we need now to cherish the riches and celebrate the achievements of The Space. But I think we also need to offer some tough love in the form of rather more critical scrutiny than I sense it is receiving.
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The Space: 21 days later

The Space: 21 days later

Time for another update on the pop-up arts offering The Space (go here and here for earlier bulletins). This is the Arts Council England initiative with the BBC which I gather is likely – after its six month trial - to become a permanent fixture of our media world. Three weeks in, what’s hot on The Space and what’s most definitely not? Well, it still feels like an online broadcaster, with next-to-no capability for engagement, comment, dialogue or personalisation. And given its genesis, that feels like a missed opportunity. But the range of elements is wider than at launch and – pleasingly – many are weirder. There is one out and out triumph, plus some stuff that is intriguing or interesting, one or two irritating things, and then one or two more that have not come off but which were definitely worth trying. At day 21, you can feel that it is beginning to deserve more (and occasionally less) than that fence-sitting adjective, ‘promising’. Across the jump are ten reasons why.
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Second thoughts on The Space

Second thoughts on The Space

I know it’s early days and there is still the best part of six months to go, and there is a ton of great stuff to come, and cool new features are on the way including personalisation, and that I shouldn’t rush to judgement, but… a week in I have to say I am a touch underwhelmed by The Space. I recognise too that there’s a great team working incredibly hard to an impossible schedule and that, in many ways, it is extraordinary for Arts Council England and the BBC to have achieved this collaboration at all. But at the same time what comes off the screen needs to be taken on. I’ll continue to be a dedicated follower of The Space, and I’ll continue to blog about it, but these are initial thoughts after seven days.
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On first looking into The Space

On first looking into The Space

Day 8 of the Julius Caesar shoot, and we continue to film the assassination scene. On set it’s still really cold and outside it’s raining hard once again. What more do you need to know (apart from what’s for lunch)? So I am taking a May Day break from blogging the shoot, and turning instead to today’s launch of The Space. This is the ‘pop up’ online arts offering from Arts Council England and the BBC that went live this morning and that will run across the summer. Go here and here for background, and (in the interests of full disclosure) here and here for the story of our rejection; for the latest follow @thespacearts. Plus, Tony Ageh marks the launch on the About the BBC Blog. There is no question that this is a hugely significant and exciting initiative for arts media, and my aim is to write about it extensively as it unfolds. I would also be delighted if this blog becomes one of the key places where a critical dialogue about its successes and failures is played out. What follows are preliminary thoughts on first looking into The Space.
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Close, but no cigar

Close, but no cigar

I blogged a fortnight back about how Points, our proposal for Arts Council England/BBC initiative The Space, lost out in the final funding round. Today I had a kind of post-rejection counselling session with a solicitous man from Arts Council England. In a scheduled phone call he explained how and why Points had come close – but not close enough. There’s a little more on that below, but I also want to sow the seed of a modest proposal. Which is that we make this blog a focus for discussion and critique of The Space across the summer months. (For background, see Mark Brown’s ‘Watch this space’ for the Guardian.) It is such an important attempt to find new media forms for the arts that it deserves concentrated critical attention during the six months from 1 May. So that’s what I intend to give it and its many projects – and I would love your help, whether in the form of discussion comments or in the contribution of more substantial reviews. I’ll return to that idea here in the coming weeks, and I hope we can together make the Illuminations blog a go-to place for thinking and talking about The Space.
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Blunted Points [updated]

Blunted Points [updated]

Tomorrow Arts Council England and the BBC announce the projects to be funded for this summer’s exciting digital arts project The Space (see my earlier post Make it new). I did some initial consultancy for The Space but then decided that I wanted to pitch an idea. This entailed pulling back from any contact with those who were judging the applications. The idea, which I called Points, was turned down in the first stage of applications because it was felt that Illuminations did not qualify as ‘an arts organisation’. I appealed this call, successfully, and Points went forward to the second round. But we learned today that it has not been successful. So I thought it might be interesting – in part because people rarely acknowledge their failures in these processes – to reproduce below the core of the Points first-round application, written back in November. The application at this stage was seeking a grant, including all rights costs, of £73,400.
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Make it new

Make it new

Arts Council England and the BBC today launched a hugely exciting initiative called The Space. As they describe it, this is ‘an experimental digital arts media service and commissioning programme that could help to transform the way people connect with, and experience, arts and culture. the arts and media.’ You can read more about it here – and on the same site you can read my ‘Inspiration essay’ (their title) suggesting how important The Space might be. I’ll blog this project’s development over the coming days and weeks, but to kick things off here’s my essay.

The arts on television have long been defined by forms and formats established more than fifty years ago. The documentaries and magazine shows of the 1950s and ‘60s still set the terms for mainstream media presentation of the arts on our screens. In those fifty and more years, the arts have changed, technologies have changed, audiences have changed – all to the most extraordinary degree – while media about the arts, by and large, has not.


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Nonsensical, no?

Nonsensical, no?

Imagine, if you will, the publication, with significant support from public funds, of a lavish monograph about a major British artist. The volume is lively, intelligent and, most likely, will be a definitive statement about the artist for the next decade and more. The cost of, let’s say, one hundred thousand pounds of our money is regarded by publishers and readers alike as money well-spent. But now let’s suppose that this book is only available for four weeks. For historical reasons, it disappears after a month into a vault, only to appear fleetingly at moments that no-one can predict. Otherwise it exists solely in samizdat copies passed surreptitiously from one interested party to the next. Nonsensical, no? Yet that is the state of affairs with most arts documentaries (and other programmes) for most people most of the time. And recent accomplished films from Waldemar Januszczak (above) and Andrew Graham-Dixon demonstrate just how daft the current system is.
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