Television Review

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The Independent Culture
MATTHEW COLLINGS is a brave man, operating within a medium that doesn't lend itself to analyses of art. This Is Modern Art (Sun C4) is less ambitious than the recent Waldemar Januszczak series, The Truth About Art, and consequently more successful, but in attempting a 60-minute survey of the art of nothingness, he was riding for a fall. It was to his credit that he clung on.

The dead people came out best. Collings visited the Rothko chapel, its walls hung with gloomy canvases that the artist painted before he committed suicide, while Donald Judd's industrial boxes were also assessed in context. Disillusioned with the New York art scene, Judd moved to the town of Marfa, Texas, where he rearranged former banks, supermarkets and army barracks into existential exhibition spaces.

In contrast, the work of "artist" Martin Creed, interviewed in his studio, was taken less seriously. The quotation marks reflect Creed's refusal to make a distinction between real life and art - between, say, wearing a colourful shirt and screwing up a piece of paper. Surprisingly, the piece of paper was the objet under discussion.

Collings, with his Open University sideburns-and- glasses set, stood alongside Creed as they contemplated a scrunched white ball on the window ledge. "I like the fact that it disappears when you put it in the world," Creed said. "But if you look at it closely, it's a reasonably well-made sphere."

"No, it's not," Collings guffawed. "It's a screwed-up piece of paper." There was a pause before he remembered both his manners and the reason for the interview. "How do you make it go from a screwed-up piece of paper to a reasonably well-made sphere to a work of art?" the presenter persisted.

For a start, cynics might say, you show it on television. Collings's dismissiveness of Creed's work contrasted with his respect for the work of Rothko. While it seemed like a sensible aesthetic judgment, his equivocation towards A Sheet of Paper Crumpled Into a Ball may also have stemmed from his role as observer. In taking the spectator's perspective on behalf of an arts documentary, he was conferring artistic status onto, well, a crumpled piece of paper.

Next week, Collings turns to jokes in art and, perhaps for the first time in its history, The Money Programme (Sun BBC2) was a bit of a hoot, too.

The one-off programme took the form of an interactive lecture, and made comparisons between an orchestra and a business - different departments co-operating while being threatened by people waving sticks, that sort of thing.

The distinguished American conductor Roger Nierenberg took charge of the BBC Concert Orchestra as members of the business community sat in amongst the musicians.

Nierenberg was something of a character, his blue eyes and moustache supplied by Robert Redford, his hair on loan from Barry Manilow for the evening.

At one point, he left the podium to demonstrate what happens when the masses are unled. As someone pointed out, Brahms sounded fine without him. The orchestra seemed pleased and the violinists tapped their bows as musical democracy was born.

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