"Nonstop imagery is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite....
In an era of information overload, the photograph..is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb."
(Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others 2003)

16 September, 2008

Art on Telly - Triumph or Travesty?

The image above shows the simple lines of the Uffington White Horse, scoured out centuries ago alongside the ancient Ridgeway and above the evocatively named Dragon Hill on the Oxfordshire-Wiltshire border. Not only can I actually see the old nag from our barn (well, I can if I go to the top of the garden and clamber up the young horse chestnut tree) but this White Horse, in its eponymous Vale, was one of the many works of Land Art featured in the last of Waldemar Januszczak’s three-part Channel 4 Sculpture Diaries.

I wasn’t totally sold by the first episode in the series which looked at sculptures of women, from the Venus of Willendorf to Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper – Pregnant and so didn’t bother to catch the middle show (apparently on power). However, I am a bit of a Land Art nut, so I did tune in last Sunday.

A few critics have reportedly moaned about Waldemar’s over-jaunty delivery but perhaps they should have been listening harder to what he was saying? The Sunday Times regular is one of our most lucid writers on contemporary art. Most recently, his perceptive take on the Tate Bacon retrospective avoided so much of the hysteria written elsewhere and actually drew fresh conclusions about Bacon’s work, which I personally fear has suffered from the “Athena syndrome” of rampant reproduction.
You can read his review here:
The programme itself was a witty and insightful travelogue which illuminated several iconic pieces of the cosmic earthworks movement which started in the States, more or less in tandem with Conceptual Art in the 1960s and 1970s. I was very envious when Waldemar walked out into the Great Salt Lake in Utah, onto the vestiges of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) – a work he described as “an atrophied slurp”. I was intrigued to find out more about Smithson’s wife, Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels (1976) while his visit to James Turrell’s extraordinary Roden Crater has got me saving up for the inevitable trip to Flagstaff, AZ.

My enjoyment also got me to thinking about whether or not “Art with a capital A” actually works on television? Certainly, you need conviction and the passion for communication, first evidenced by the equally jaunty Matthew Collings, bouncing Boswell of the YBAs, and most recently exhibited by the dapper Count Francesco da Mosto. It certainly also helps to know what you are talking about, viz: Sir Kenneth Clark or Brian Sewell. For my money, the best telly art critic of our own age is Tim Marlow, regularly to be seen on Channel 5 - (or is that just “five” these days?)

Channel 4 continues the arty Sunday night theme this week with “The Mona Lisa Curse”, a documentary examining one of my own regular rants: art & money. It is also presented by a true art world leviathan, Robert Hughes, who only this week dubbed Damien Hirst’s work ‘absurd’ and ‘tacky’. Unmissable.