Rococo: Travel, Pleasure Madness is a three part series presented by art critic, and former Head of Arts for Channel 4, Waldemar Januszczak. The series focuses on the social context in which the art of this historic period was produced, with little discussion around artistic techniques or critique of the style. Rather, Januszczak sets out to provide an understanding of this artistic movement beyond the aesthetic value of the works produced in order to enlightened the viewer with the rococo’s ‘wider achievements’ beyond the ‘pink frilliness’ that has come to define the era.
The series is shot entirely on location. The audience is given the sense that they are going on a pilgrimage to gain a deeper understanding of the art produced during this period that is informed by experiencing it in its original context.
When artworks and galleries are shown, they often feature other people wandering around, observing the paintings to reinforce the sense of first-hand experience and physical presence.
This sense of presence is also furthered by the use of handheld camera shots following either just behind or beside Januszczak as he walks and talks. This, along with Januszczak’s informal style of address, gives the impression that you are accompanying him on this journey to discover the deeper meaning behind the art of the rococo. Rather than the presenter being portrayed as an authority figure in the style of Civilisation or Ways of Seeing, Januszczak acts as a travelling companion, or at most, a rather over-enthusiastic tour guide.
Throughout the series there are instances of people in period costume acting out scenes to illustrate Januszczak’s discussion. During these scenes the camera is positioned to capture Januszczak watching the drama unfold with us. This combination of the contemporary and historical throughout the series gives the impression that the viewer is being taking taken on a journey through time as well as geographical space, emphasising the importance of situating art within a historical context.
Most strikingly, there are also points within the programme where actors dramatise scenes from paintings:
Such scenes demonstrate how through the medium of television art can be brought to life in a way that transforms how we relate to it. It is no longer a static image of a past moment; it has become a contemporary moving image that has the ability to capture a range of moments and emotions that can alter and distort the meaning of the original piece.
However, with the strong focus social context, you sometimes get the impression that the art featured is merely a backdrop for extensive accounts of particular popular figures or cultural trends from the rococo period. Rather than an analysis of artistic methods, viewers are given the contextual knowledge to interpret the art at a deeper level and understand the moments that have been immortalised within the pieces. This, along with Januszczak narration with its multi-textual references throughout, suggests that this programme is aimed at an audience that possesses a certain level of education and understanding in regards to ‘high-culture’. This imagined audience is also evident in the scheduling of the programme. Being broadcast at 9pm on BBC 4 puts the series in competition with primetime shows on the more mainstream channels such as BBC One, ITV and Channel 4, creating an alternative choice for viewers interested in more niche programming.