Art That Made Us – BBC Two, April 6, 9pm
It feels like a long time since we had a heavyweight but accessible series on art. But this is properly comprehensive – beginning in the so-called dark ages and careering forward across eight episodes to these oh-so-enlightened times we call the present.
And guess what? It turns out the dark ages weren’t so dark but were instead a time of glittering art and extraordinary fusion, as cultures came together in the vacuum left by the Romans.
Antony Gormley – sculptor extraordinaire and creator of some of the best loved public art this century including the iconic Angel of the North – is very taken with the fifth century clay figure Spong Man. And it is quite breathtaking. The emotions conveyed in this simple pottery lid for a cremation urn, made by migrants from Northern Europe and Southern Scandinavia that was found in Norfolk and the earliest example of surviving Anglo-Saxon pottery shine through.
“The whole point of making something is in some way to communicate with somebody they may never meet– somebody who might live in a different continent, might live in a different Millennium. The potential of sculpture to have conversation with people who haven’t been born yet is an incredibly powerful thing for me,” says Gormley, as he unveils a modern-day, “considerably more depressed” cousin to Spong he made during lockdown.
The series continues in this format. Bringing great artists and art lovers of today into close proximity with key works from the last 1500 years. The result is an artistic, alternative history.
Similarly, self-proclaimed (in The Big Issue, no less) not-for-profit actor Michael Sheen performs a seventh century Welsh poem of resistance against the Anglo-Saxons, Y Gododdin attributed to early Welsh Bard, Aneurin. It’s chilling. Beautiful. Is there a better performer of poetry than Sheen?