“This Is Modern Art” is a six-part TV series from 1998, written and presented by the English art critic Matthew Collings. Collings was a producer and presenter on the BBC The Late Show 1989-95. In the early 1990s, he brought Martin Kippenberger into the BBC studios to create an installation, and he interviewed Georg Herold while this Cologne-based conceptual artist painted a large canvas with beluga caviar.
The series won several awards including a BAFTA. It became popular both because of its sometimes jokey and sometimes thoughtful explanations of the work and attitude of a new wave of artists that had recently been publicized in the British mass media, and because of its author’s witty and irreverent, though clearly highly informed, commentary style. It focuses on the current state of modern art, and looks back at Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol to see how they changed the definition of art, reveals the ways modern art attempts to shock the audience and investigates on whether the once accepted view of art as merely a thing of beauty prevails today, examining the works of various artists.
Watch all episodes in the playlist below (2 hours, 29 minutes)
There is also a book based on the series available at amazon here.
Matthew Collings has already established a reputation for himself as one of the most irreverent and original commentators on the contemporary art world, with his books Blimey! From Bohemia to Britpop and It Hurts: New York Art from Warhol to Now. With the publication of This is Modern Art, Collings has ordered an even bigger canvas to sketch his own uniquely original version of contemporary art today, which he sees as both increasingly popular but also at different points “glamorous, mysterious, sexy, soulful, macabre, gloomy, quirky, kinky and funny”. Written to accompany the television series of the same name, This is Modern Art is an in-your-face guide to modern art from Goya’s “Disasters of War” to Gillian Wearing’s prize-winning video of the police. Along the way, Collings addresses the questions which have both defined and plagued perplexed responses to modern art, including its desire to shock, its questionable aesthetic value, its humour and its blankness. As it moves along in a style which is at times infuriating but always direct and funny, This is Modern Art points out how far we’ve come since Picasso and Matisse, reverses out of the cul-de-sac of postmodernism, waves the flag for New British Artists like Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas, and ultimately leaves his audience with a streetwise, upbeat book on the abiding value of modern art. –Jerry Brotton
Modern art today is a cow cut in half with a chainsaw, floating in a glass tank. A house cast in concrete. The London Underground map with all the station names changes – the Circle Line stations are comedians, the Northern Line stations are philosophers. A tent embroidered with the names of everyone the artist who set up the tent has ever slept with. But what does it all mean? What is Modern Art? Why do we like/hate it? Can anybody do it? Is it always modern? Who started it? In this refreshing and extremely accessible book Matthew Collings tells the story of modern art and our modern attitude to it. It combines hard information on major artists and movements – what really happened – with ordinary reflections: modern art is intimidating and unfathomable to many but Matthew Collings cuts through this barrier by asking all the kinds of questions many of us will have asked and been puzzled by. He will compare Goya to Duchamp and Picasso, Rothko to Yves Klein; he will look at the role of African tribal art in the rise of Modernism and Punk Rock in the rise of Post-Modernism. This will become a classic book of its kind, quirky, culty and great fun.