Hailed ‘National Gallery’ Documentary Comes to CAM

The year 2014 has been such a good one for feature films about the visual arts — both fictional and documentaries — that its offerings just won’t end.

click to enlarge National Gallery
National Gallery

The year 2014 has been such a good one for feature films about the visual arts — both fictional and documentaries — that its offerings just won’t end.

Even after Tim’s Vermeer, Finding Vivian Maier, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Art and Craft, Big Eyes and more have already played here, other art films considered 2014 releases are just now arriving in Cincinnati.

One of the best of those releases about visual art, the Frederick Wiseman documentary National Gallery (it’s been hailed wherever it has opened), is coming to the Cincinnati Art Museum’s large auditorium for a special free screening at 1 p.m. Sunday. No reservations are required.

National Gallery is, fittingly, a richly detailed and carefully rendered three-hour portrait of the London museum that is a repository for some of the most sterling achievements in Western art, such as Vermeer’s “A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal,” Turner’s “The Fighting Temeraire” and Velazquez’s “The Toilet of Venus.”

Wiseman is the 85-year-old master of cinema verite documentaries whose subjects are often public institutions. He is known for his unsentimental technique of observing his subjects at work without intruding with opinionated voice-overs or other conventional documentary-storytelling touches.

Yet his films are all the more humanist for it — he patiently gives voice to all the people who comprise a bureaucratic “system” and shows how they do their work. And with an art museum like the National Gallery, he also gives voice to the artworks themselves by focusing on them and observing the people who spend their workday teaching, studying and conserving the art.

Brian Sholis, Cincinnati Art Museum’s associate photography curator responsible for bringing National Gallery here, explained his reason in an email:

“Frederick Wiseman is a master documentary filmmaker, and the opportunity to present his vision of one of the world’s foremost museums was too great to pass up. I love visiting the National Gallery and I’m excited to learn more about how it functions and see more than I can as a member of the gallery-going public.”

Coincidentally, another of the major 2014 releases about visual art still to arrive here — Mr. Turner — is about British painter J.M.W. Turner, who lived from 1775 to 1851 and has work in the National Gallery. His devotion to capturing the effects of light and color on the landscape led him to create revolutionary paintings and watercolors that were a precursor to later 19th century Impressionism and 20th century Abstraction and Color Field painting. The Taft Museum has an important painting by him, “Europa and the Bull,” unfortunately on loan for a traveling Turner exhibition until August. However, the Taft has borrowed the Turner painting “The Golden Bough” from London’s Tate Modern in its place.

In Mr. Turner, which has a tentative Cincinnati opening date of Feb. 20 and was just nominated for several Oscars, British director Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky, Secrets & Lies) and his favorite actor Timothy Spall have combined to make a biopic that avoids melodrama.

There are also a couple 2014 documentaries about art and artists that never played here theatrically but are available via DVD or Video On-Demand. (Many of the documentary DVDs can be reserved at the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County’s website.)

Levitated Mass: The Story of Michael Heizer’s Monolithic Sculpture


This documentary by Doug Pray follows the amazing 2012 journey of artist Michael Heizer’s 340-ton solid granite boulder as a 294-foot-long, 206-wheeled trailer takes it through Southern California to a space outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where it appears to levitate above the ground below.

Sol LeWitt


This great American conceptual and Minimalist artist, who died in 2007, made huge and precisely geometric abstract works that have been displayed prominently in museums everywhere. He was never really a celebrity, and this documentary by Chris Teerink takes care to not treat him as one.

More Than The Rainbow


There are indeed still rough, gruff New York street photographers in the styles of Weegee, and former cab driver Matt Weber is one of the best known. This film by Dan Wechsler offers a portrait of the man and his work.

For more information about the NATIONAL GALLERY screening at the Cincinnati Art Museum, visit cincinnatiartmuseum.org.


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