Tag Archives: BBC 1

Television and the Commodity of Art: Representing the Consumer

The commodity of art on television is a theme I’ve briefly discussed in my previous blog post about BBC One’s Fake or Fortune? In the post I discussed how the programme uses a crime drama narrative to conduct an investigation into the authenticity of a painting, the aim of which is to reveal whether the piece is a fake or worth a fortune.

Aimed at a slightly more niche audience, BBC Two’s The World’s Most Expensive Stolen Paintings (2013) uses similar elements of the crime drama narrative to explore the world of art theft. Although there is a strong element of aesthetic analysis courtesy of art critic Alastair Sooke, the connection between the authenticity and prestige of the pieces stolen from museums and their monetary value cannot be overlooked.

In this post I want to move away from looking at how television presents the monetary value of the artwork itself, and examine how the consumer is represented through a short analysis of The World’s Most Expensive Paintings (2011).

Image

As the title suggests, The World’s Most Expensive Paintings examines the top ten most expensive paintings in the world to have been auctioned. Presented by Alastair Sooke, the programme provides access to the secretive world of the arts market and its super-rich patrons.

Image

Originally broadcast on BBC One at 9pm, the programme uses elements of investigative journalism to create an arts documentary with mainstream appeal. There is a sense that the viewer is being given access to a dimension of our cultural world that is usually the exclusive domain of the financial elite.

Image

The dominant narrative throughout the programme is the tension between aesthetic and monetary value. Sooke’s aesthetic appreciation of the paintings is juxtaposed with millionaires purchasing them as luxury status symbols to display on the walls of their lavish homes.

Image

In a particularly telling exchange we witness art collector Jeffrey Archer showing Sooke a painting on his wall while explaining why he chose to purchase it. Archer rather abruptly turns to Sooke, pointedly stating ‘You’ve got your grubby hands on my beautiful walls.’ To which Sooke sheepishly steps back, replying ‘I do apologise.’

Image

It is hard to ignore the strong links between high culture and wealth threaded throughout the programme. Interviews with collectors set to establish their motives for spending so much on a particular painting. Rather than aesthetic value, these motives often involve discussion around elements of the piece such as markers of its authenticity, or a particular time in the artist’s life in which it was created.

What is really noteworthy about The World’s Most Expensive Paintings is the sense in which the art consumer is portrayed. In this context art is an unobtainable luxury, predominantly inhabiting the world of the educated upper classes. Sure, we may be able to see paintings in galleries, but most of us will never own such prestigious art or be part of this exclusive art world.  Indeed, our very access to certain paintings is removed by collectors hanging them in their private homes, away from the eyes of the general public.

I would suggest that the focus on the commodification of art in programmes such as The World’s Most Expensive Paintings, Fake or Fortune, and so on, portrays the arts as exclusive and bound within class structures defined by wealth. The paintings featured within these programmes that exist in private collections and hang on the walls of extravagant mansions do little to represent how the majority of people experience and engage with art. Although I would agree that such programmes have their place within broadcasting, it is certainly worth considering why they have featured quite so prominently within the schedules of BBC One and BBC Two, and what impact this has upon the mainstream perception of the arts.

Advertisements

Fake or Fortune?: Arts Crime Drama

Image

Fake or Fortune? seeks out missing masterpieces of art using ‘cutting edge science and investigative research’ to distinguish the originals from the convincing fakes. As the title suggests, the programme focuses on the monetary value of art, with this value being a product of an original painting’s unique authenticity. Any discussion around the artist themselves, or the style of art is always a means to gather evidence to determine the authenticity of a piece, rather than to judge and appreciate its aesthetic value. In this regard, aesthetics take a backseat to monetary value and the art becomes an object that is defined through its authenticity.

Along with its Sunday evening 6pm slot on BBC 1, the familiar face of news presenter Fiona Bruce is an attempt to appeal to more mainstream audiences. The focus on monetary value, as opposed to aesthetic critique also goes some way to separate it from the niche category of other arts based programming, as viewers are able to understand and feel engaged with the series even if they do not possess a vast amount of knowledge around the works and artists being featured.

Image

The form of the programme really sets it apart from the majority of traditional arts programming, and again, gears it more toward a mainstream audience. Both the stylistic themes and narratives throughout the series are reminiscent of a detective or crime drama. To begin, the overall concept lends itself to this genre with the mystery of “is it real, or fake?” thread throughout each programme.

Image

To answer this question, clues and evidence are gathered to determine the painting’s authenticity. Fiona Bruce travels to various locations to talk to experts within the field who analyse the style of the painting, and others who examine legal documents and letters to track when and where the painting was sold. The painting is also analysed by a number of scientific methods, in which elements such as the paint can be traced back to the date it was used. Throughout the programme graphics are used illustrate this scientific analysis of paintings, reinforcing the idea of looking beyond the aesthetic qualities.

Image

This physical ‘dissection’ of artwork is a stark contrast to the way we are accustomed to seeing great paintings hanging in a gallery, even if that gallery is on our television screens. The viewer is no longer experiencing the aesthetic effects one feels when viewing a painting, but is interpreting its physical properties.

Image

The music used throughout the series is also evocative of the crime-drama genre. It comes in during key moments throughout the programme to build tension and create a sense of suspense.

Controversy arose when a Chagall painting the programme discovered to be fake was to be destroyed under French law. The destruction of ‘fake’ reproduced paintings protects the authenticity of the original while ensuring that any reproductions may not be sold under false pretence. The controversy surrounding whether the fake Chagall should be burned raises questions not just around issues of authenticity and ownership, but also reproduction.

The irony when watching Fake or Fortune? is that television itself is a form of reproduction. When exploring arts broadcasting it is interesting to consider if the cultural value that is embedded within a piece of original art changes, or even decreases, in a mediated world in which these images are freely transmitted. Great paintings are now available in millions of homes around the country, even if they are not hanging on the walls.