23 October 2002

Matthew Collings: Strictly modern

Intriguing connections surround the recent Australian visit of British art critic and author Matthew Collings, best known here for his British Academy Award-winning television series, This is Modern Art.

Collings, who has charted the rise of the so-called Young British Artists movement of the mid-1990s, wound up a sell-out speaking tour last week with a talk at Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art, where his subject was "The Solemn and the Trivial versus the Serious and the Playful". Collings' witty, plain-speaking accounts of the works of YBA stars such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst have done much to demystify art for the general public.

But now he believes that, while the popularity of modern art is on the rise (in Britain, at least), artists should have no obligation to be popular. Indeed, art is "neither democratic nor a form of entertainment but is a specialised endeavour for those willing to make the serious effort to engage with it".

9 October 2002

Ken Burns: oxymoronic hybrid

Dubbed the world's most influential documentary film-maker, Ken Burns has made his name and fortune bringing the past to life. "I've become so influential," Burns told The Bulletin, "that one of our most respected historians said recently that more Americans get their history from me than from anywhere else, to paraphrase the [American] ABC news slogan."
Burns delivered the keynote address at the 2002 NSW Premier's History Awards last Friday. Premier Bob Carr had been trying to get Burns to Australia since he instituted the awards in 1997. He was booked to come last year but September 11 intervened. Yet the director of the most watched documentary in television history, the epic nine-part The Civil War, admits he is "completely untrained in American history".