Andrew Graham-Dixon has presented numerous art programmes on TV but I believe this is only the second to be released on DVD, quickly following "The Art of Spain". I found these German programmes the most interesting of all the presenter's programmes, perhaps partly because I was less well-informed about German art but also I think because Graham-Dixon does such an excellent job. The first of the three one-hour episodes covers the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Baroque period and seeks to relate art to its historical context. Though I was acquainted with the works of Durer, Altdorfer and Messerschmidt I must confess I knew little about others such as Tilman Riemenschneider. The presenter's analysis of his stone and limewood carving is fascinating. The second episode takes the story up to the First World War and sets art against the background of the attempts to unify Germany. Caspar David Friedrich features prominently as does the art of Prussia, the state that was to unify Germany.
The third episode is "In the Shadow of Hitler". It looks at the Nazi era from the perspective of art, and in particular claims that art exerted a powerful effect on Hitler's own visions for Germany and influenced his actions. Just as Stalin disliked modern art and sought to change it so too did Hitler. The episode also deals with how post-war German artists tried to come to terms with Nazi legacy, with much material new to me.
I find Graham-Dixon an engaging and informative presenter and I believe this to be the best of all his TV series. Just one discordant note however: why does the background music have to be so loud and intrusive on so many BBC programmes? I might have awarded five stars had it not been for the music.
From Cologne in the west to Berlin in the east; and from Hamburg in the north to Munich in the south, Andrew Graham-Dixon's three-part BBC series on the art of Germany does not claim to be a comprehensive guide. There is, after all, no Waldmuller, Knobelsdorf, Holbein, Bocklin, or Schiele in sight, but rather the series is an attempt to explain German art through illustrative examples.
As some of the aforementioned names suggest, Graham-Dixon does not restrict the German nation to the borders of the modern nation-state - he visit Vienna, for example, to sample the amazing Messerschmidt busts - but, despite even one mention of (for example) Klimt, Graham-Dixon has nevertheless brought a wide range of samples for our delectation and examination. (Having said that, the presenter is sometimes guilty of confusing the German state with the German nation: the former was created in 1871, the latter had existed for centuries if not millennia.)
The first episode highlights the paradox and complexity inherent in the concept of `German', as Graham-Dixon introduces us to the deep-rooted German connection with the landscape, exemplified in the lime-wood sculpture of Tilman Riemenschneider and Goethe's attempt to view German medieval gothic as reminiscent of the architecture of forests. This first episode is almost wholly devoted to the German late-medieval style: as well as Riemenschneider, the colourful worlds of Grunewald, Durer, Cranach, and Altdorfer are explored.
The second episode is entitled `Dream and Machine', but it could also be called `Romanticism and War', as Graham-Dixon brings us forward to the nineteenth century and the ostensible contradiction inherent in the German admiration for both a sense of yearning, of becoming, and a sense of concrete intricacy. Caspar David Friedrich, Karl Schinkel (alas, not enough), Wagner (Richard, not Otto), Kollwitz, Kirchner, Dix, and Marc all feature here.
`In the Shadow of Hitler' is the title of the last episode with two-thirds devoted to the interwar years. As well as painting and architecture, Graham-Dixon also addresses photography, film, and even the Autobahn in his musings. He does engage in some contrasts with earlier German art, for example Grosz's `The Pillars of Society' is compared to the Isenheim Altar, and perhaps we could have done with more of this to fully explain continuities within the German artistic psyche. In his review of postwar German art we see how Checkpoint Alpha in Berlin has been preserved as a museum piece, but one might question whether it is a work of art. (Indeed, for me most of the postwar art displayed in this programme is embarrassing at best.)
Graham-Dixon is a worthy leader of our tour, and clearly knows his stuff. Of course his opinions are couched in subjective terms - "I feel", "I think", "I believe for me ..." - and we are free to agree or disagree, but he does make some cogent observations and provides new insights on some familiar works. He also introduced me for the first time to some artists whose works had so far not crossed my radar, and for that I am grateful. Full marks too for trying to at least learn some German!
The series is very well-edited, and allows the viewer to explore works in detail using the pause button. Now all we need is a full series for Graham-Dixon to explore Austrian art.
on 3 April 2011
I thought these programmes were unbalanced and in places disingenuous. To start a programme on German Art with Gothic architecture (which is essentially French) is odd, and then, as the archetype of this work of the medieval mind, to choose Cologne Cathedral, which was built in the 19th century and is essentially a pastiche, is very odd indeed. The next oddity was to spend ten minutes of a 60-minute programme on Messerschmidt, and then to imagine that his "character heads" somehow reflected the fragmentation of Germany. That is a view which is not only strange, but was not backed up in any serious way. The middle episode, on the 19th century, was much better, giving due attention to Runge and Friedrich. To try to get all of German 20th-century art into one episode is probably an impossible undertaking. Much of it was well done (the Nazis and art, for example), but why spend so much time on the Bechers? Hilla Becher is a jolly old girl, and enjoys explaining (to TV viewers) the twists and turns of the blast-furnace pipes on the bald b/w photographs she famously took together with her husband. But if this were a 40-something man explaining in an estuary accent the fine points of the different clothes-pegs in his collection, we would soon yawn and wonder if this was art (even if he'd taken good photographs of them). I suppose no review of German art can fail to mention Beuys, and even Grahame-Dixon admitted that many feel this emperor has no clothes. I thought he got too much space, and the result was that others were left out.
on 23 December 2011
Overall, an enjoyable and informative series, although I would prefer to have seen more of the artwork and landscapes. I found the frequent close-up shots of Andrew Graham-Dixon intrusive, rather like having somebody standing in front of the television. This, along with the somewhat rapid views of certain works, tends to take a little from the very interesting commentaries.
on 23 January 2015
Andrew G-D is a maestro in my eyes. He has the ability to give just the right amount of meat of the subject to really engage you. Yes, if you actually analyse some of what he says it can deflate before your eyes, but many of his observations are truly eye-opening and have helped inspire me to visit places and appreciate artists I would otherwise not have seen. His apparently improvised pieces to camera in front of art works are often gems of insight.
I bought this, having enjoyed his more recent forays in Sicily and Italy, as a planning aid for a trip to Germany that I have in mind. Having watched the 3 programmes in the set I now have some more concrete ideas for an itinerary. German art is - big generalisation coming here - not quite at the top of the tree when compared with, say Italian, Spanish, Dutch/Flemish, but AGD has introduced me to some new names here that I am now going to explore - the photography of August Sander in Cologne being a good example.
on 10 October 2015
Andrew Graham Dixon provides an entertaining and instructive introduction to German art. Seeing Mathias Grünwald’s incredibly powerful altar justifies by itself a trip to Colmar, and AGD’s explanation of the artist’s (and Dürer’s) double inspiration from the Middle Age and the Renaissance makes it worth by itself the buying of this DVD. The author shows how the German obsession with trees and forests (Wagner’s tales are also influenced by them) constitute a common thread for German Art through the centuries, and he is probably right . However AGD also thinks that a yearning for a unified country obsessed those artists for 500 years…and I personally doubt this hypothesis. France and the UK (with the exception of Scotland) have a long history of a unified country, while Germany was created by the iron fist of Bismarck in the 19the Century, and some areas, like Bavaria are still unhappy with their loss of sovereignty !
on 29 April 2013
Andrew Graham Dixon's programmes on art are the best of their kind. He can describe the most complex social, political, spiritual and of course artistic ideas and influences in clear terms and through memorable images, with unfailing sensitivity. This series successfully tackles one of the hardest and broadest of topics imaginable in any field, illuminating in all sorts of surprising corners - and not just dark ones by any means, despite one other reviewer's comments on this site!
This particular series covers the lot, from obscure medieval pieces of devotional wooden sculpture through the birth pains of the actual German state in the 19th century through the depravity of the 20th century and beyond. It's an artistic journey more urgent than most, and needs to be distilled through a limited number of examples of each period and genre. This bigger stories are told without too much clutter and detail, intelligently perceived in the tiniest details of some seemingly ordinary works of art. Andrew Graham Dixon is really on top of his many subjects.
The second episode has the weakest artistic material to draw on, focusing in part on a relatively short period when the German state was being forged in the 19th century. And of course the end result of this German nationalism is always in the back of our minds, but it does explain many of the fantastical and ultimately fanatical imaginations at work. And it does bridge the gap between the pious works of the high medieval and later artists and the descent into hell that was the early and mid 20th century.
The ending was a genuinely moving and uplifting example of civic and landscape art that I had never heard about, a work by an artist called Joseph Beuys. Highly recommended from start to finish.