Art Trip: London | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

Art Trip: London | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

episode is supported by the Great Courses Plus. London is a big city– a crowded
and lively global metropolis. It holds an embarrassment
of cultural riches, and we had only a few days
to take advantage of them. Our timing aligned with what a
handful of art and media people call Frieze Week
in early October, when the Frieze London
Art Fair pitches its tents in Regent’s Park. All of the galleries
and art venues put forward some of their
best shows of the year, and fancy art
collectors descend. We were there too. We began our art trip in
Trafalgar Square, whose fourth plinth was intended to
hold a statue of William IV, but instead stood empty due
to lack of funds for over 150 years. In 1999, the plinth
became a site for temporary art
commissions, and has since featured an inverted
replica of itself in resin, an architectural
model for a hotel, a platform for members of the
public to say and do anything they wish, a replica
of Horatio Nelson’s ship in a bottle with sails
made of African batik fabric, a boy on a rocking horse,
a big blue rooster, and the skeleton
of a horse around whose front leg is tied a live
ticker of the London Stock Exchange. And it’s now host to a
very large thumbs up forged in bronze by David Shrigley,
and it’s titled Really Good, which doesn’t sound right
unless you have a Brit say it. WOMAN: (BRITISH
mistrust of this symbol of positivity creeps
in almost immediately. The unnaturally elongated
thumb makes us notice not only how phallic the
sculpture is, but also how phallic Nelson’s
Column is, and how grandiose architectural
expressions of confidence in general can be. So here, we have this
monumental expression of confidence in London’s
locus of protest– and just post-Brexit. Despite uncertainty and
unrest at home and abroad, we’re still really
good, everybody, right? We then took a short walk to
the National Portrait Gallery, which is filled with a great
many painted portraits of kings and queens and generals
and wealthy people throughout British
history walking through the galleries I kept
thinking about the stories not told through these pictures–
contemporaneous events not reflected in these highly
staged portraits– even, or perhaps especially, in
the more recent portraits, which made me think about how
and why portrait painting kept being a thing after the
invention of photography. And then, as if the curators
could hear my thoughts, I came across a display of truly
stunning photographic portraits highlighting black presence
in Britain before 1948. The humanity and intimacy
of these pictures was in stark contrast to those
in the previous galleries, telling more compelling,
nuanced stories, and showing off a rich collection, only
a fraction of which can be on display at any time. They also had a temporary
exhibition of photographs by American photographer William
Eggleston, a pioneer and master of color photography. These photographs were printed
using a dye transfer process that yields brilliantly
saturated colors and brings Eggleston’s subjects
from the ’60s and ’70s to startling life. It’s not just the
people in the pictures. It’s the frame, the
time, the place, and the light that make
me feel like I was there, taking complete strangers and
causing them to feel familiar, sympathetic, and dimensional. We moved on to the
Royal Academy of Art, which is hosting a big,
bold, celebratory exhibition about abstract expressionism. It has all the heavy
hitters– Still, Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko,
Newman, Kline, Rhinehardt, a woman artist, Smith. To be fair, there are
more women in the show than the magnificent
Joan Mitchell. And there are efforts
throughout the show to complicate the usual
story about this time in the mid 20th century
when a number of artists, mostly in America,
mostly white men, started making big,
expressive paintings. Of course, they weren’t all big
and they weren’t all expressive and they weren’t all
made by serious macho dudes in New York. But in general, it reinforces
the usual heroic narrative about this time in art. And I couldn’t help
but think about how it’s as much about
the stories we choose to tell as how we tell them. OK, it is impressive. You will like it. But what if all the effort of
bringing these works together in one place had been
devoted to another subject? A new subject? One that hadn’t yet been told? We made a final stop at
the Courtauld Gallery to check out a few paintings
that might look familiar, like van Gogh’s Self-Portrait
with Bandaged Ear, Manet’s A Bar at
the Folies-Bergere, and incredible works by
Monet, Cezanne, Gauguin. And then I just short circuited
because of masterpiece overload, and we escaped
back to East London for beers and fries and delicious
food at Blixen and reveled in the sundry
joys of not looking at art. The next day, we
spent the morning with the truly delightful
Peter Liversidge, who charmed us with his studio
full of unusual collections and sent us off with numerous
album recommendations, our own mix CDs,
and an assignment that you’re going
to very much enjoy. Then it was onto
Whitechapel Gallery, where along with saluting
the Guerrilla Girls exterior banner, we took our time delving
into the interior display of their recent research into
diversity in European art organizations. We also had the extreme
pleasure of seeing Whitechapel’s exhibition of six
large scale video installations by South African artist
William Kentridge. Each is an exquisitely
thoughtful arrangement of materials and moving
images and light and sound, animating Kentridge’s
distinctive charcoal drawings and synthesizing
the creative talents of a number of collaborators. The works delve into a
deep pool of subjects, particular and
universal, from apartheid and histories of colonialism
to his own artistic process and to the nature of time. We made our way west to Hauser
& Wirth, a commercial gallery running two shows that
the time, one of which is a multi-room installation
by Mike Kelly, which recreates the Seven Star Cavern, a
landmark in LA’s Chinatown, which he positioned adjacent to
an inaccessible enclosure that is part security fence, part
traditional Chinese gate. They also had a show up of works
by renowned Brazilian artists Lygia Pape, including two of her
remarkable Tteia installations. Pape diverged from
the harsh geometries of Brazil’s concrete art
movement in the 1950s, and evolved her own
approach to abstraction that is simultaneously
geometric and expressive. This installation, originally
constructed in 1976, is made of metallic thread
strung across the room to create volumes
that transform as you move throughout the space. Here with her work, I
was able to appreciate the softness, the subtlety,
and the delicate beauty that is possible in abstraction–
how these lines slip in and out of legibility, as if by magic. It was transportive,
immersive, and meditative, and I did not want to leave. But eventually, we had
to, and we found our way to the Serpentine Galleries
to see their outdoor pavilions during the final
weeks of their run. The series was conceived
in 2000 as a way to introduce you to
contemporary architecture by commissioning some of the
world’s greatest architects who had not yet completed a
permanent building in the UK to make a temporary structure
on the gallery’s lawn, taking a maximum of six months
from invitation to completion. This year’s pavilion is
designed by Bjarke Ingels Group, and is a play on one of
the most basic elements of architecture–
the brick wall. Ingels’ wall, however, has
been unzipped and expanded into space, forming a cavity
beneath it that houses a cafe and hosts activities. The program is a clever
way to address and move beyond the strictures of a more
traditional exhibition space. But the Serpentine
has those as well. We took in their Marc Camille
Chaimowicz exhibition, which probes the territory
between art and design, public and private space,
and the tenuous divisions between the everyday object,
decoration, and so-called fine art. We also checked out
the exhibition of works by Helen Marten in
the Sackler Galleries, a truly confounding amalgam
of materials and textures and images that caused me to
walk round and round the space, trying and failing
to pin them down. That’s not to say I
didn’t enjoy them. I did, but it’s precisely
because I couldn’t quite determine what I
was seeing and what I might conclude from them. On our last day in London,
we made our pilgrimage to Tate Modern to film with
the legendary Guerrilla Girls, and also to check out the
newly opened Switch House building, which houses a number
of impressive, new, and light filled spaces that give
the museum even more room to show off their enormous
and magnificent collection. What you’re seeing here is a
display of works from the 1960s forward that respond
in various ways to the architecture
of the space. I love many things
about this institution, but near the top
of my list is how they elegantly and
non-braggingly bring together works by a wide
variety of artists from all over the world, with
near equitable representation of works by men and women,
making meaningful efforts to tell wider and less expected
stories about art today and in the past. They allow us as visitors
to consider these works side by side, room by room,
and give us ample space and encouragement
to make connections across time and geography. We also got to see
the just opened installation in the Turbine
Hall by Philippe Parreno. Titled Anywhen, it was conceived
as a giant automaton that changes throughout the day and
throughout the exhibition’s six-month duration. Here, you might
experience a sequence of flashing lights,
moving panels, video, and sound environments, as
well as floating inflatable fishies, all of whose movements
are triggered by software informed by microorganisms,
which react to and activate parts
of the commission through a bioreactor at
the far end of the hall. How much of this is
evident to the large crowd that gathers here? We’ll never know. But what we do know and
what is palpable regardless is the sensation
that the building is behaving unpredictably– that
we must pause or even lay down to observe its workings, to try
to determine what is the heart and what is the building, and to
stay attuned to an environment where anything, small
or large, might happen. We then spilled out
into a glorious fall afternoon and headed
toward Regent’s Park for the week’s main event. This tent and another
tent not too far from here is Frieze Art Fair. Now, this is not the
democratic kind of art fair where anyone can
sign up for a booth and display their handmade
wares to kindly passersby. This is a highly
competitive enterprise that galleries from
around the world apply to and pay considerable
sums to be part of. They do this because
many wealthy collectors and influencers in
the field come here. And galleries can make
a significant portion of their annual
income in a few days. I like to think of this kind of
fair as more of a sociological experience than an art
experience, per se. And it’s often as fascinating
to people watch and eavesdrop as it is to take in the art. And there is a ton of art. A lot of it is good. But it’s truly challenging to
appreciate in such a space. You get distracted
by everything– the people, the
camera operators, the way the wind whips
at the tent around you. And yet, you still stumble
upon works and environments that surprise and intrigue–
like Celia Hempton’s occupation of Southern Reid’s booth, which
she painted in its entirety and presented within her series
called Chat Random, where she connects with men online
and paints her interactions. I and many others were
drawn to Hauser & Wirth’s striking space,
which was curated with a collection of works
from the 1940s and ’50, many from estates, presented as
a fictional artist’s bohemian studio. I enjoyed a curated section
of the fair, where galleries revisited exhibitions
from the ’90s, highlighting moments
and works that had an impact then and now. I also found refuge
within the project room that presented the artistic
activities that take place at Operndorf Afrika
in Burkina Faso. I welcome this access
to a dynamic world of art and artists seemingly
far away, and yet functionally the same as that which
surrounded us here at the fair. It costs 52 pounds to visit
all of Frieze London– not a small sum. But what it lacks in calm it
makes up for inefficiency, allowing you a chance to see
the works of more than 160 of the world’s, quote,
leading galleries, all in the span of a few hours. It also gives you a
window into a world that is largely
inaccessible, but which fuels the art world, or the
web of gallerists, collectors, curators, museum board
members, and directors– oh, and artists, who decide which
works belong in our museums and public collections. We saw an exhausting amount
of art in London– no, really. Too much. But what London gives
us is the opportunity to see art in a huge
span of context. You can see it in public
spaces and private spaces, in historical spaces
and brand new spaces, in intimate and
highly social spaces. You can see it in
non-commercial spaces and super commercial spaces. And you can see an
enormous variety of art, arranged
in such ways that confirm prevailing narratives
and those that subvert them. And this is the glory
of art in London. It’s all here. And you have the good fortune
to decide which way you like it or whether you like it at all. Thanks to the Great Courses Plus
for sponsoring this episode. The Great Courses Plus is
a digital learning service that allows you to learn
about a range of topics from talented educators
from around the world. Go to thegreatcoursesp, and gain access to a library of
video lectures about science, math, history literature, or
even how to cook, play chess, or practice tai chi. New subjects, lectures,
and professors are added every month. They have a course on the
fundamentals of photography that’s taught by Professor
Joel Sartore, who shares super valuable
tips that can be applied to a wide range
of disciplines and art assignments. With The Great
Courses Plus, you can watch as many different lectures
as you want, anytime, anywhere, without tests or exams. Help support the Art Assignment,
and start your one month trial by clicking the link below,
or going to thegreatcoursesp

Dereck Turner

84 thoughts on “Art Trip: London | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

  1. Gia S. says:

    Yay! New video!!

  2. Juan Pablo Torres says:

    Some great spatial works on this one.

  3. SciJoy says:

    The Tteia 1C made me think of fiber optics. Cables filled with light and information but hidden away usually in dark forgotten places.

  4. Emily Taco says:

    Art Assignment videos are always something to look forward to!

    I really like the music near the end of the video. What may I search for in order to hear it in it's entirety? Or was this specially crafted for this video?

  5. Yavuz Baysal says:

    I agree that a lack of representation of women In the art world is a problem, but if you incorporate it into you shows core narrative I worry you may damage the potential of this show.

  6. suspendedsky says:

    i was curious about ceilia hampton's 'chatrandom from that brief look. seems like a pretty interesting take on women's interaction with men online. not something i'd typically think about as a subject for art.

  7. Margaret Moon says:

    Come to Houston! Come to Houston! Come to Houston! I will be your guide. It will be wonderful. I promise.

  8. Calicido says:

    Will you go to TEFAF?

  9. Courtney Paz says:

    I am really loving these art trip videos. They're immersive and interesting and I love learning about these places from an art perspective.

  10. felipe jannotti says:

    Monet ❤️❤️❤️

  11. Steve Hall says:

    Really Good.

  12. Oliver Bollmann says:

    Amusingly I just saw Bjarke Ingles in an interview/lecture at City Arts a couple of days ago. 🙂 I really like their work, and I'd've loved to have gotten a chance to experience his Serpentine pavilion! TTeia 1C also seemed delightfully spatial, and must have been very grand to walk around as the spaces formed shifted in and out of existence…

  13. James Curtis says:

    thank you, I really enjoy this channel but as I'm from England I found the other places unreachable. This is exactly what I needed.

  14. vivieuvi says:

    I love Lygia Pape's installation so much! I did spend hours looking at it! 💜💜

  15. Viv H says:

    Would anyone else LOVE to see a Tokyo art trip??!!?

  16. fuliajulia says:

    Rosianna 😀

  17. Enric Viver Canal says:

    It seems like you had a lot of fun tho ! Keep with the goood shit !

  18. bradley burnham says:

    YES YES YES! God I love London

  19. minevira says:

    im pretty sure that "rooster" statue was called the big blue cock

  20. TheLuluTrue says:

    What I love about London is that there are so many free museums. I've been there two times, for only a few days, and the amount of art I've seen was overwhelming. But this video definitely gave me some ideas of where I want to go when I visit the city again in the future. Are you going on an Art Trip to Kassel in Germany next year for the Documenta 14? It's my home town and even though it's still about half a year until the official beginning, it feels like the city is going crazy with the preparations.

  21. Lilian Yeung says:

    I really enjoyed this and I love how different this is to John's Thoughts From Places (which I also loved). I can imagine while Sarah was shooting these art scenes, John was off just shooting footage of fancy clocks that tell the wrong time. 😀

  22. Chloe Phillips says:

    As a Brit one of the main attractions of London is it's art! Hopefully one day I can afford to live close enough to day trip. I'd love to visit the Tate every time it changes it's hanger space~

  23. Xenolilly says:

    Oh the places I want to see. Thank you for going to the places I cannot.

  24. Stephen Persing says:

    In defense of the AbEx show, there is always a new generation of people seeing these works for the first time, so the re-appearance of a familiar art historical group is not familiar to everyone.

  25. Neve Gray says:

    Wow, so much to take in xD

  26. Mary Aiming says:

    Oh man i love this channel. So well written, such interesting and informative and entertaining content

  27. NortexG - Art says:

    I love this!! I need to visit more art gallerys

  28. afroceltduck says:

    Great video! I feel exhausted after just watching the whole thing, so I can't imagine how you felt after three days of actually doing the walking and looking.

  29. James Scantlebury says:

    This episode really confirms to me how lucky I am to live in London, with access to such amazing art.

  30. Serena Vessella says:

    I'm visiting London soon and what's wondering if there are any things that you have seen which are worth visiting?

  31. Maz Selby says:

    I've been looking forward to this one since john's thoughts from places video!!! I was not let down! 🙂

  32. Paola says:

    I remember John saying in his excellent Thoughts from Places video on the vlogbrothers channel: "Soon there will be an art trip London video that will be like this one, except much better." I can't help but agree (maybe without the "much", in appreciation of his vlog). These videos are just incredible. Thank you.

  33. Robb McDonough says:

    Sarah…sloooooow down a little. Please! ; )

  34. AnkaFurb says:

    <3 London <3
    Went there on a school trip once. After five days of museums and walking we fell asleep at TATE modern. Something I regreted for years later, and made up for just two years ago.

  35. commonform says:

    Must have been a truly exhausting trip, but such a wonderful report to watch and a meditation on the complexities of art! Can't wait for the Lygia Pape retrospective at the Met in March!

  36. Chinmaya Nagpal says:

    Rosianna said "really good", lol

  37. CrumpArt says:

    William Kentridge is a human treasure. I recommend doing a search on YouTube to see some of his video work and the documentaries made about him.

  38. rascorpia says:

    Ceilia Hampton's work has me so conflicted.

  39. scozio says:

    I totally enjoyed this art full immersion, and I appreciate not spending precious video time on food! Having said that, there was a shocking lack of AFC Wimbledon footage! 🙂

  40. NotThatHunter says:

    It's funny that you invoke Brexit in Trafalgar Square – when I was there in July, the statue of Geroge IV had been adorned with a European flag in protest.

  41. Morgan Smith says:

    I was lucky enough to do a study abroad to London two summers ago, and omg this made me miss it so much. I got to see the big blue cock, I sat with my class while we ate breakfast and people watched as others looked at it, or took selfies with it. We got see Matisse's cut out show in the Tate modern, and I love that building to death. The white chapel gallery is amazing! I spent so much time in that neighborhood, and bought way to many clothes!And we got to see / interact with Maria Abramovic works in the serpentine gallery. The modern building next to is amazing, and has an amazing story. I could spend years in the national portrait gallery! I went back 3 times just to see the self portrait made of blood. And regents park is where I loved to hang out when I wasn't in a gallery. Ugh and the science museum is so much fun! Thank you for reminding me of these fun times, and really making me want to go back

  42. TheCowgirlgem says:

    I wish this video had have come out before the Guerrilla Girls Frieze Art Fair video. I think this video had some important context for it that was missing from the Guerrilla Girls video. Or that that video had and introduction explaining how the art fair worked and how much it cost to even visit.

  43. Moon Safari Films says:

    William Eggleston is my new obsession, thanks for the heads up.

  44. Arianna Rabin says:

    I loved this video! I am from London and I am so glad to see all my wonderful city has to offer appreciated 🙂 I must get to all these exhibitions!!

    would also recommend to anyone reading kenwood house and leighton house; kenwood is in hampstead and is a georgian house full of wonderful old master works, it's a lot like the borghese in rome or the frick in new york, and leighton house is the home of frederic leighton in kensington, decorated in an Orientalist style and full of lots of drawings by he and his contemporaries.

  45. Abstract Moon says:

    I was there with my family from Friday to Sunday (my 18th birthday). We didn't have the time to see everything so I'm glad to see you uploading this video 🙂

  46. leafgreen92 says:

    My favorite kind of video! thanks art assignment!

  47. KatOfDiamonds says:

    Well, I did not expect to be teary eyed at the end of this video.

  48. Turbo Bus says:

    Oh my god!! Why does this channel have to be so pc?

  49. Emogenji says:

    Reinhardt?! OVERWATCH

  50. Wes says:

    get it sarah!

  51. Loba Étoile says:

    Art makes me happy. 😀

  52. Alex Colley Hart says:

    Great video!

  53. Amy Collins says:

    Okay. I found the art in this video interesting and intriguing. Want to see more. Know absolutely nothing about art. Going to London in September. Where should I go? ~polite request for help!~

  54. gene says:

    I was at Art Basal in Hong Kong few months ago and 9:58 was what it exactly felt like. You get overwhelmed by so many arts that you can't stop and appreciate them individually. It's more of a commercial event.

    I'd much prefer sitting down in a gallery and listen to people explain what the painting means.

  55. gene says:

    London is beautiful. I'd love to visit there someday.

  56. Darkvine says:

    I should visit that Courtauld institute sometime, masterpiece overload

  57. Crushi! .Music, Art & Love. says:

    Thank you so much for the tour and information! Astoundingly amazing series on youtube! Thank you so much!

  58. Crushi! .Music, Art & Love. says:

    Haven't we leart (learned) that no art is "good" or "bad"?

  59. Atelieri Design says:

    You are living the life I want and need.

  60. Vision From The Roots says:

    You are talking way too fast

  61. songofsunrise says:

    I actually thought there'd be an assignment at the end of the video!!
    Impressed with how much you packed into a few days in London… London is always too much, I find. But I'm still here. All the art…I can't leave it…

  62. gavin Reid says:

    In Trafalgar square is the National Gallery ,one of the best and biggest art galleries in the world . You never visited !!! Tate Britain can be reached from Tate Modern by a boat ride along the river. You need to return.

  63. joshuwa says:

    You seem to have been there when the weather was unnaturally good making all the art look 20x better

  64. Hoxton Square says:

    join us at Art & Fashion

  65. James Oliver says:


  66. John Castle says:

    I think great artists do art as a kind of therapy ,crappy artists do it to make money ,that's why you see so much crappy art .

  67. John Harris says:

    11:30 "Oh and artists" Loved the sass in that commentary

  68. DaBoff99 says:

    Thanks for informing me the Tate Modern gives equal billing to women artists and artists across the globe. I agree with your perspective that the photographs you showed in the National Portrait Gallery were more expressive than the recent Royal portraiture. When I visited Summer 2017 there was a good exhibition of recent painted portraits, the one of Norman Lamb MP sticks in my head.

  69. Araweelo Spirit says:

    I was in the video. Wow!!!

  70. Araweelo Spirit says:

    Wait wait wait. You mean YOU DIDN'T go into Somerset house. What a missed opportunity. Seriously stupid move

  71. Andrea Egea says:

    I understand you guys don’t have time to talk about all the art works that have been displayed at the fourth plinth, but maybe mentioning Alison Lapper Pregnant, instead of the blue cock for example, would have been cool. 💕

  72. Welcome to the Museum says:

    Too much indeed. Need a year or two to comprehend everything in Londres

  73. jacek pokrak says:

    Regards Pokrak compmaturism

  74. Mohamad Kebbewar says:

    Lovely, thank you for this tour.

  75. jacek pokrak says:

    Regards JJ Pokrak compmaturiem

  76. Richard Lund says:

    I have been to many museums and the Tate Modern is my favorite!

  77. AngelHQ says:

    Pretty funny how you putted yourself in the frame like that at 9:57. It's like "What?" xD

  78. scorpioninpink says:

    The 4th Plinth is actually planned to house the statue of Queen Elizabeth II after she dies. Which will be underwhelming as it had house great scupltures

  79. Mantse Gh says:

    I'm visiting all these places soon

  80. ringdigger says:

    I’m speechless by your interpretation. I’ve visited many of these art installations in London and I don’t have any of the words or expressions or interpretations to vocalise in the slightest in the way you just have.

  81. Inessa Maria says:


  82. Al Green - Light Through Glass says:

    'One that hasn't yet been told' – status-obsessed mainstream curators just aren't that interested in unknowns- fortunately as you found there are the venues that cater to new/alternate thought and expression – art for arts sake.

  83. Mark Stevenson says:

    It’s great to see the wonderful, vibrant, diverse art London has to offer. Makes me wonder why you felt the need to rip on Abstract Expressionism (your reluctant praise of the work seemed beside the point). The political history of the time was unfair and underrepresented huge numbers of people from many backgrounds, but this is STILL great art made in a historically tight time and space. In order to understand it deeply we need to see how these artists influenced each other. This show was not an attack on diversity; it’s a detailed study of a movement without which most of the other art you enjoyed would not exist.

  84. Phillip Marcus says:

    Heavy on the dogma; short on sustained visuals. Boring, doctrinaire, superficial and useless.

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