The eye has to travel: 10 Fascinating Documentaries

Since lockdown is upon us, we gathered 10 critical documentaries from master painters to master musicians for your viewing pleasure. Delve in and let us know your favourite.

‘Ways of Seeing’ (1972)

A key art-historical work that continues to provoke widespread debate, Ways of Seeing examines the relationship between seeing and knowing. It discusses how our assumptions affect how we see a painting, how we consider the role of women in artwork, the relationship between subjects and their ownership, and, lastly, the idea of ownership in a consumerist society, by discussing the power of imagery in advertising, with particular regards to photography.

Paula Rego, Histórias e Segredos (2016)

Known for being very private, Paula Rego reveals herself for the first time in this film, surprising her son, the filmmaker Nick Willing, with stories and secrets of her exceptional life, a life of struggle against fascism, a misogynistic art world and depression.

Anish Kapoor in "London" (2020)

this film is an intimate portrayal of a world-renowned artist. As he works in his South London studio with a team of assistants, Kapoor shares the motivations behind his ongoing explorations of concavity, scale, and the immersive potential of colors like black and red. These aspects of his work become metaphors for both the artist and the viewer and reminders to go inward to understand one’s sense of self, place, and significance. As the artist explains, “Truly opening oneself, to oneself, is the hardest work you can possibly do.”

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (2012)

Through performances that challenge both herself and participants, emotionally, intellectually, and physically, Marina Abramović has been pushing past perceived limits of the body and mind and exploring the complex relationship between artist and audience since the early 1970s.

In 2010 at MoMA, Abramović engaged in an extended performance called, The Artist Is Present. Seated silently at a wooden table across from an empty chair, she waited as people took turns sitting in the chair and locking eyes with her.

National Gallery (2014)

Frederick Wiseman takes the audience and his inquisitive lens on a journey to the heart of a museum inhabited by masterpieces of Western art from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. National Gallery is the portrait of a place, its way of working and relations with the world, its staff and public, and its paintings.

Palolo, Coisa de Pintar (1990)

Portuguese painter and artistic operator, João António da Silva Palolo, debuted his work in 1964 in a solo exhibition. At the end of the 1960s, the self-taught artist revealed himself to be a master of pop aesthetics that later evolved into the geometric simplification of forms. In the 1980s, he began to work on the human figure and the relations of man with the universe. In Coisa de Pintar, we are given access to the roots and influences of his work, and the artist's vision on the nature of painting, in direct speech.

Gerhard Richter: Painting (2012)

The transfixing documentary, set in Richter's studio in Cologne, observes the artist's painting process, and in particular how he creates his large abstract series. The film follows Richter through mesmeric cycles of painting, viewing, and judging.

Imbued throughout are shorter sequences from historical interviews and footage of other aspects of Richter at work, including his interactions with curators, assistants, and family. Painting is a startling close-up on the process of making art, and a rare view into the mind of one of the world's greatest living artists.

Sun Ra: "A Joyful Noise" (1989)

Sun Ra, the late bandleader-keyboardist-composer and one of jazz music's most entertaining and eccentric figures, is profiled in Robert Mugge's hourlong film, who spent two years shooting Ra and members of his so-called jazz Arkestra in a wide variety of situations.

Years ahead of his time, Ra coupled images of outer space with those of ancient Egypt, acoustic instruments with electronic ones, and modern American musical genres with the sounds of Africa and the Caribbean.

Beauty Is Embarrassing: The Wayne White Story (2012)

Part biography, part live performance, Beauty Is Embarrassing tells the story of the one-of-a-kind visual artist and raconteur. The film traces White’s career from an underground cartoonist in New York’s East Village to his big break as a designer, puppeteer, and voice-over actor on Pee-wee’s Playhouse for which he won three Emmy awards. At its core, the film shows what it takes for one uniquely talented, profanely hilarious, and utterly uncompromising artist to make it in America.

Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang (2016)

A celebration of the art and ambition of Guo-Qiang, Macdonald’s film documents the life of the fascinating artist and his story of artistic success. The artist, who proves to be a potent subject himself, and paints images in the sky using colorful fireworks, shares how he creates his most demanding project yet, the sky ladder.