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  • Gareth Crook

National Gallery (2014)

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

For a 3 hour documentary about the National Gallery, this is oddly compelling. I'm really not sure how this got on my watch list, but I'm glad it did. I first visited the National Gallery in my mid-teens. It felt stuffy and I got bored quickly. The art didn't grab me the way things did at The Tate, but I can still recall the feeling of looking at some of those masters and although not thinking 'that looks ace', it was impressive. It's nice to see here that there's voices running the gallery that want to open the gallery to appeal more to the public. This of course being 'proper art' that everyone can think 'well that's good, I can't paint like that', as apposed to the opposite reaction levied at modern art. Not everyone wants that though, there's still the undercurrent of an elitist element present which is frustrating. Some of the nicest stuff in this is the viewers stood looking at the paintings, you experiencing their fascination through their fixation. Especially the packed crowds for the Da Vinci exhibition. The hushed walla through the rooms, people gawking and picking apart the paintings as people have done for hundreds of years. There's some really cool stuff, artwork transferred into almost Braille like pieces for the blind to enjoy, absolutely fabulous! As is the tour guide down on floor with a group of really young kids, telling them about the paintings around them, bustling with energy and enthusiasm. Not least this works simply for the explanation of the exhibits. The stories behind them bringing them to life. The restoration stuff is mind boggling too and sadly isn't covered enough, it's also ironically very much all surface with little explanation to the process... although the X-ray stuff on a Rembrandt is cool and the stuff that's not explained is still very relaxing to watch. Instead there's some behind the scenes stuff which is exceptionally dry. Unedited meetings about how they deal with the London Marathon finishing on their doorstep and how they deal with charitable requests. It's stuff like this that pushes the duration to the 3 hour mark and it's far from entertaining, but it seems the choice has been made to put it all out there for the viewer to muse over... much like the art on the walls. There's some delightful bits though, the art historian filming a piece to camera talking about a Turner, the lighting experts talking about compositions dictated by natural light before we had electricity and the bloke struggling to talk about carving ebony picture frames that reminded Anne* of Porky Pig. Depressingly in another meeting there's talk of budgets, caps on spending, staff reductions and palpable concern over what the future may bring. The figures mentioned are pretty epic, but then as art institutions go, this one is epic. It's been a while. I think I need to go back and visit again.



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