Last week I watched Imagine: Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman with double persona of Grayson Perry talking about his latest exhibition which is on at the British Museum until February next year. It was wonderful hearing Grayson talk about his art, and the personal meaning and significance behind his artistic choices – and the endearing Alan Measles. As a result of this the depth of understanding or critique it is now possible to have with the show will be greater, more informed and will also act as a nudge for me to go along. So why isn’t there more programming like this?
And I don’t mean that the format should have to follow the style of Imagine – a programme that is broadcast at 10.45pm when most people are calling it a day and heading to bed though iPlayer may have changed all that, it is also I’d say aimed squarely at one type of audience - an already predisposed, highly literate one. And sure you could go along to Grayson’s talk but this only really works if you happen to live near where they are taking place. But TV, that is for the masses, in your home and in your face.
Hearing Grayson talk about his own views on galleries, what he considers to be bad art and how the placing of objects in galleries in order to give them significance and importance they’d not have otherwise, makes me think how vital and compelling it is to hear artists’ opinions and in the case of ‘Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’ whether the visitors attending the British Museum would find this exhibition all the more enriching and insightful if they too had seen the Imagine documentary on TV.
Though television is undoubtedly a compelling medium, the drug of the nation and all that, could a greater, more varied line in accessible programming on art really make a difference to the quality of debate and to audience figures in the real world? The Turner Prize nominees are currently showing their wares at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead and in a wonderfully refreshing way after you come through the exhibition on your way out, you are directed past a café. The Turner Prize café is a comfortable place of chairs and tables, pencils, notepads and reflection – and people who have just experienced the same show as you. What this social space invites is a place to contemplate further what you have just seen with the means to pour out on paper what you might be thinking and a wall to post your observations should you wish.
The shlurp and churp comment wall
But what I loved about this relaxed arrangement is that all this accompanies a perfectly sized big screen showing a 10 minute film on a loop interviewing the nominees Martin Boyce, Karla Black, George Shaw and Hilary Lloyd. This is thought through further as on each table sits a neat, moveable, volume-adjustable speaker. The sharing of tables encourages conversations to strike up between strangers as the Turner Prize goers swop thoughts and emotions augmented by their new knowledge gained from the film.
For the film focuses on the artists and their work – which for me resulted in being able to put a face of a regular man or woman to those sculptures, video installation and enamel paint I’d just seen. Someone who looked like anyone one of the people around me. It was the immediacy of being able to do that which is what makes it work, your thoughts and emotions are so fresh, you need to respond. The art becomes more accessible and real as you hear the honest, down to earth account of what inspires these artists to create and how they feel about what they do create. After all, this is what the judges will know.
When one of the nominees, Hilary Lloyd said 'there’s this idea that you should somehow have to understand art and ‘get it’. I don’t think it is like that’ the man opposite me palpably relaxed. The interviewer asked her what her installation is supposed to mean, to which she replies laughing ‘can you answer it and I’ll see if I can agree.’ Which compelled the man to write on his ‘shlurp and churp’ pad.
there’s this idea that you should somehow have to understand art and ‘get it’. I don’t think it is like that
In the film you also get a glimpse of the wider body of their work, the rooms at BALTIC are small with such few examples of the artist’s work that it is hard to feel immersed in any one of them. The film helps to change that too.
As visitor numbers at BALTIC may well have hit 50,000 in the opening fortnight I wonder what impact the café has had on people’s experiences. Judging by the wall, visitors are keen to engage with the work and express their opinions. It is fascinating to read these insights and work out who the people’s vote would award the prize to. Here are a few of these.
So is television the answer to rich public engagement? Develop audiences on TV and they will go out and seek the real, the live and the physical experience? Could programming that also includes those without a degree in Fine Art be a way to draw people into the world of an artist and alternative ways of seeing the world around them?
What I do know right now is that it’s hats off to BALTIC for their lovely Turner Prize café and their very friendly staff.