Masterpieces at home 2.

29th April 2020

John Wyver writes: On a Sunday evening in early August 1960 the esteemed art critic and cultural mandarin Kenneth Clark (knighted at the time, but not yet elevated to the peerage) hailed television viewers from a bench in the empty exhibition galleries of what was then the Tate Gallery. His position of privilege was within the great Picasso show of that summer, and over the next half-hour he walked through the spaces, guided the eye of monochrome electronic cameras linked to an outside broadcast (OB) unit, and offered his far from unequivocally positive thoughts about the art of the great Spaniard.

On a Friday just over a month ago the writer and broadcaster Alastair Sooke greeted us at the end of the Millennium Bridge. He was about to take us inside the empty exhibition galleries of Tate Britain (which back in 1960 as Bankside B electricity generating station was still under construction) for an ‘exclusive’ tour of the Andy Warhol show that had opened only days before. Sixty years on from Clark’s endeavour, Alastair Sooke followed pretty much the blueprint established by that pioneering ATV broadcast, demonstrating in the process aspects of a virtual museum visit of the kind that we are becoming ever more familiar with.

As a follow-up to Monday’s post and in anticipation of tomorrow’s Museum from Home day from the BBC (part of Culture in Quarantine), this column reflects on Sooke and Simon Schama (who took us around the Ashmolean Museum’s ‘Young Rembrandt’ show) and then selects a number of innovative online presentations of exhibitions created by museums and galleries across Britain and abroad. Both the Sooke and the Schama films are on BBC iPlayer for the next six months, here and here.

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Masterpieces at home 1.

27th April 2020

John Wyver writes: Frustrating as being isolated at home is in many ways, it is also fascinating for the opportunity to observe how cultural organisations are conjuring up all sorts of smart, innovative ways to respond to the crisis. As well as finding this a rewarding experience in and of itself I am also deeply intrigued by what we might learn from the new forms and aesthetics that are emerging, as well as from the models for producing and funding this work, and what we can perhaps take in to The After.

Tonight, BBC Four begins Museums in Quarantine, a series of half-hour films made in galleries under lockdown; the first has Alastair Sooke wandering around ‘Andy Warhol’ at Tate Modern. This seems a good prompt to look in a series of posts this week at how museums and other institutions are, sometimes with broadcasters but often not, making their works and shows available.

To kick off, today I want to consider three approaches to presenting locked-down exhibitions on screen. One is the BBC Arts film Titian: Behind Closed Doors (above, on BBC iPlayer for another week or so); this was made by the independent Matchlight with the National Gallery in the run-up to its major exhibition ‘Titian: Love Desire Death’ that closed just three days after it opened.

The others are videos made by museums: Picasso and Paper: Virtual Exhibition Tour from the Royal Academy, about a show that I was fortunate enough to walk around in The Before, and Van Eyck from Home, a tour of the show ‘Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution’ at the Museum of Fine Arts (MSK) Ghent, for which I had a ticket, a Eurostar reservation and a hotel booking.

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Sunday links

26th April 2020

John Wyver writes: welcome to this week’s listing of links to articles and a handful of videos that have engaged my attention over the past week. Stay safe and well.

• The extraordinary Sir Simon McDonald “clarification” – a guided tour: this was probably the piece I most enjoyed across the week – David Allen Green’s forensic (and devastating) close reading.

What do we need in a crisis? Broadcast TV!: John Ellis at CST Online is very good on media in this moment: ‘Connection and reassurance, long the business of ordinary TV, have found their cultural role in this time of crisis. There is a new reality that we all share…’

‘Can we do this without breaking the law?’ Inside the first lockdown TV drama: Mark Lawson for the Guardian spoke with the makers of the starry Isolation Stories, shot in self-isolation and due to be screened by ITV from 4 May.

How the coronavirus is changing television production: meanwhile, across the Atlantic, for Buzzfeed, Krystie Lee Yandoli explored ways of continuing to work pioneered by producers at Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Tonight with Jimmy Fallon, American Idol, The Walking Dead and more.

Close contact: an illuminating essay by Michael Lobel for Artforum about art and the 1918 flu pandemic, taking in Duchamp, Munch, Schiele and especially John Singer Sargent’s monumental canvas Gassed, 1918-19, from the Imperial War Museums collections (header image and detail, © IWM Art).

What we miss without museums: this is beautiful and very true, from Rachel Cohen for The New Yorker.

The untold story of the birth of social distancing: fascinating social, medical and political history from the mid-2000s, by Eric Lipton and Jennifer Steinhauer for The New York Times.

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Dancing at Illuminations

23rd April 2020

John Wyver writes: the current embrace of streaming performance by cultural organisations, broadcasters and audiences means that, amongst a cornucopia of online delights, you can find a rich range of Illuminations’ productions and collaborations involving dance. Highlights of the available productions in which we have been involved include the following…

Tomorrow night, at 7.30pm on Friday 24 April, Sadler’s Wells premieres An Evening with Natalia Osipova, which will be available for a week on the Sadler’s Wells Facebook page. Included in the programme of works with the astonishing dancer is Qutb, a complex and intimate work choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, which premiered in 2016. Natalia Osipova performs alongside dancers Jason Kittelberger and James O’Hara in a showcase of the technique, energy and precision which feature throughout the great dancer’s work. We filmed the dance as part of a trilogy of performances for Sky Arts, with Ross MacGibbon as screen director and Lucie Conrad as producer.

The programme from Sadler’s Wells also includes the ‘ravishing six-minute ballet’ (as The New York Times described it) Valse Triste specially created for Osipova and American Ballet Theatre principal David Hallberg by Alexei Ratmansky, as well as the beautifully emotive Ave Maria by Japanese choreographer Yuka Oishi set to the music of Schubert.

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Sunday links

19th April 2020

John Wyver writes: my usual weekly compendium of articles and a video or two that have engaged and interested me over the past week, with the inevitable Covid-19 links — but hopefully not too many of them.

By invitation – Mark Carney on how the economy must yield to human values: the former director of the Bank of England for the Economist on the possibilities post-Covid-19 for reversing the move from market economy to market society ‘so that public values help shape private value’.

The government’s response to Covid-19 and Brexit are intimately connected.: David Edgerton is brief but damning on the historical analogies beloved by the Brexiters and the Tories:

What we need to understand is the centrality of a mythical picture of British innovation to Brexit. Brexiter arguments for a hard Brexit hinge on the UK’s supposed leadership in creativity and innovation, which was just waiting to be unleashed… The wonderful thing about invoking ‘science’ is that it suggests action, drive, modernity. Yet what Johnson and other Brexiters have  rediscovered was a great British liberal tradition of making a lot of noise about science in order to cover up deliberate inaction, in the face of demands for a national and imperial strategy for agriculture and industry.

Donald Trump’s greatest escape: Michael Kruse for Politico on how 45 has been training for this moment for his entire life.

Shax Americana: Rhodri Lewis for TLS reviews recent books about Shakespeare in the age of 45 by james Shapiro and Jeffrey Wilson.

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‘Emergency Ward’, 1952

16th April 2020

John Wyver writes: among the film treasures nearly accessible online is a digital restoration from the George Eastman Museum of Emergency Ward (1952), a remarkable documentary made at St Vincent’s Hospital, New York City. I had read about this precursor of the ‘direct cinema’ and cinema verité documentaries that emerged from the late 1950s onwards, but I’ve never before had the chance to see it. Slightly frustratingly, this Vimeo upload can’t be embedded elsewhere, but the film can be viewed here. (Peter Bagrov, Curator in Charge in the Moving Image Department of the George Eastman Museum, writes here about the institution’s new policy of making films available online.)

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‘Future States’ surprise ending

14th April 2020

John Wyver writes: Over the past fortnight or so I have posted on several occasions about the Future States online conference from the Centre for Design History, University of Brighton, which I have been following and appreciating. I had been flattered to be asked, along with Professor Barbara Green, to contribute some closing remarks as a way of kick-starting the plenary session over the next four days. And indeed placeholders for our contributions featured on the conference website from the start, as above.

I am not a periodical studies scholar, but the organisers invited me, so I understood, to offer remarks about the potentials and problems, the strengths and limitations of online conferences in general, and the specific nearly carbon neutral conference (NCNC) format with which Future States was working. ‘I leave it, of course,’ read the invitation e-mail to Barbara Green and myself, ‘entirely up to yourselves to decide the nature of your Closing remarks. I imagined that… you, John, might talk more about the NCNC medium – but you can both surprise me, and that will be delightful!’

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Stage and screen: first questions for The After

13th April 2020

John Wyver writes: For those of us who have been working in screen adaptations of stage performances it feels as if, in the specific as well as the general, over the past three weeks the world has turned upside down. From being just one strand in the work of theatre, opera and dance companies, nice-to-have for many but perhaps not absolutely at the heart of things, recordings in many forms of stage performances have become central. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have been enjoying free streams of content that, until ten days ago, and in large part because of rights restrictions, was accessible only by scholars.

Performance companies, large and small, have been showcasing their work online, for one night only or for just seven days or for months, and for free or for a donation or as part of a trial for a streaming service. We have been privileged to engage with productions from the National Theatre, Berlin’s Schaubühne, Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London’s Royal Opera House, Rosas in Belgium, The Wooster Group, Royal Shakespeare Company and countless others. And there’s much more to come, from the BBC’s Culture in Quarantine initiative and from other projects still being worked through.

A greater degree of mainstream critical attention has been paid to stage to screen translations in the last three weeks than in the past decade. There have been numerous coordinated Twitter parties, watch-alongs and post-show Q&As on Zoom. Companies are also beginning to make original work for online. In many ways all of this digital activity is thrilling and heady and more-than-slightly overwhelming.

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Sunday links

12th April 2020

John Wyver writes: for this week’s round-up of reading and viewing that has engaged me over the past week I tried to limit stuff related to Covid-19, but somehow that proved hard to do – the first links are all pretty essential, and the mood lightens a little ‘below the fold’.

Special Report – Johnson listened to his scientists about coronavirus – but they were slow to sound the alarm: I tend not to include links to day-to-day reporting but this is exceptional journalism, datelined 7 April, from Stephen Grey and Andrew MacAskill at Reuters; I’ve seen surprisingly little pick-up.

• Vector in chief: Fintan O’Toole is simply brilliant on Tr*mp and the crisis, for New York Review of Books:

to understand Trump’s incoherence, we have to take into account two contradictory impulses within the right-wing mindset: paranoia and risk. The right appeals to the fear of invasion, of subversion, of contamination. But it also valorizes risk. The contemporary Republican Party, through Trumpism, has managed to ride both of these horses at the same time.

Shockwave: hardly a cheering read, nor an easy one, but nonetheless essential — from the LRB Adam Tooze on the likely consequences of the pandemic for the world economy.

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‘Radio Times’ at Easter in the 1930s

10th April 2020

John Wyver writes: considering the two television covers of Radio Times from October 1936 in an earlier post piqued my interest as to what the covers of the weekly listings magazine were like throughout the rest of the 1930s. How, for example, did Radio Times use its covers to celebrate Easter during what W H Auden famously called ‘a low dishonest decade’? So I poked around in BBC Genome and came up with the somewhat surprising answer, hardly at all. Christmas was a major event for the magazine, reflecting its significance for radio, and later television, from the BBC, but at least on the covers of Radio Times religious services and bunnies very much took a back seat to sport and other attractions.

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