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.
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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.
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Catching up…

Catching up…

It has been just over a month since I last posted, for which I can only apologise. Not that I haven’t had things to write about. Rather too many of them, in fact. Which in part accounts for my failure to contribute anything new here in the past four weeks and more. Last Wednesday I produced the latest Live from Stratford-upon-Avon cinema broadcast of Henry IV Part I, and on Friday there was a shoot for the trailer of Two Gentlemen of Verona. I was at the Shakespeare450 conference in Paris and I have curated the current ‘Classics on TV: Edwardian Drama on the Small Screen’ at BFI Southbank. There is a screening of Don Taylor’s exceptional 1977 BBC production of Harley Granville Barker’s Waste on Tuesday evening and a half-day symposium linked to the season on Friday. And today was the press day for Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation at Tate Britain (that’s the man himself, above), which I have had a hand in putting together and for which I have written a catalogue essay. These events – and more – now deserve some reflections, which is what I am to provide over the coming days…

Lost encounter

Lost encounter

In March 1958, for the second programme of his ATV series Is Art Necessary?, Sir Kenneth Clark filmed at the British Museum with the sculptor Henry Moore. They did so at night, illuminating the ancient artworks, including the Elgin Marbles, with powerful torches. Many of the programmes in Is Art Necessary? survive in the archives, but seemingly not this one. Apart, that is, from a brief pre-titles sequence, with the two connoisseurs entering the museum. The complete film, far more than any other ‘lost’ trace of British television, is the single programme that I dream one day of discovering.
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The birthplace of ‘Civilisation’

The birthplace of ‘Civilisation’

By making available in perpetuity programmes without too many rights issues, the online BBC archive collections are proving to be invaluable resources for researching television history. A parallel archive release from BBC Four (oddly unlisted on the main archive index page) is a treasure trove of early programmes about archaeology, most of them from the 1950s and ’60s. Many of the films in this new group star the avuncular and mustachioed Sir Mortimer Wheeler who in the 1920s and ’30s, long before he became a television pundit, was a key figure in establishing a scientific basis for archaeology. Wheeler’s post-war television tourism in the classical world appears disarmingly primitive when compared with the CGI-heavy pilgrimages of today. But it allows us to trace with striking clarity the emergence of the television form of the presenter-led journey. This would flower at the end of the 1960s in Kenneth Clark’s landmark Civilisation (1969) and more than forty years on from that series remains dominant in factual television today.
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Reprise: Art and artists on pre-war television

Reprise: Art and artists on pre-war television

In another post from the blog’s archive (previously published on 17 July 2010) I take a look at the visual arts on BBC Television between 1936 and 1939. I was reminded of this because I am teaching again at the Royal College of Art tomorrow – and our main subject is Kenneth Clark, later to be the presenter of Civilisation (1969). But Clark had a significant engagement with television long before that landmark series…

In the second volume of his autobiography The Other Half, published in 1977, Kenneth Clark recalls having taken part in 1937 in ‘the first “art” programme to appear on the new medium’ of television. ‘I was chairman of a panel in which four artists tried to guess who wrote certain lines of poetry,’ he writes, ‘and four poets guessed, from details, who painted certain pictures. The poets won. I suppose about 500 people saw it.’ I am as guilty as others in using this quote to suggest (in my book Vision On: Film, Television and the Arts in Britain) that pre-war television was pretty much a visual arts wasteland. My recent burrowing in the online Radio Times listings shows me just how wrong I was — and indeed that K was mistaken too. The programme he describes wasn’t transmitted in 1937 and it most certainly wasn’t the first television ‘art’ programme.
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Links for the week

Links for the week

In Sunday’s Observer Tim Adams wrote a fascinating article about the the Picasso show at the Tate Gallery in 1960. Suggesting that this was the world’s first ‘art block-buster’, he explored ‘the moment when Picasso, and modernism, finally arrived in Britain’. Well, up to a point… but you could argue that the Picasso and Matisse show at the V&A fifteen years earlier was equally influential – see Lauren Niland’s Guardian archive blog ‘Taking the Picasso’. One aspect of the 1960 Tate show that Adams doesn’t mention is the half-hour outside broadcast for ITV that Kenneth Clark (above, in Civilisation) hosted from the gallery. Much like the programmes that Tim Marlow does now for Sky Arts from major exhibitions, this is a tour-de-force performance by Clark and a fascinating tour of the show. I unearthed it when I was researching my 1993 profile K: Kenneth Clark 1903-1983 and it was subsequently shown on BBC2 (although it now seems to have disappeared again). All of which acts as a trail for Tate Britain’s forthcoming Picasso and Modern British Art which opens 15 February. Across the jump, more links to interesting stuff…
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‘That prince of editors’

‘That prince of editors’

I have been immensely saddened this evening to learn of the death, at the age of 74, of the designer, illustator and art critic Peter Campbell. You may know of him as the man who, since 1992, has created the fortnightly cover of the London Review of Books. Diana Souhami’s delightful tribute to Peter that is her Guardian obituary points out that for the first four years these covers often featured one of his monochrome photographs. But since 1996 they have been the delicate, poised colour illustrations that have been among the magazine’s most distinctive features. Peter also designed the magazine’s generous layout (and its just as generous Bloomsbury bookshop) and he contributed a regular column of thoughtful art criticism distinguished by his precise observations and unshowy intelligence. I cherish the two watercolours of his that hang on my walls, and I am happy to say that he was a friend of mine.
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