Kenneth Clark’s 1969 BBC series Civilisation (note the singular) is perhaps the most celebrated documentary series ever made, except that it was entirely of its time: patrician to the exclusion of women and western to the exclusion of all other cultures. Spring 2018 sees an ambitious 10-part BBC re-make, presented by Britain’s foremost historians, embracing global civilisations and exploring different themes in the universal histories of art and culture.
In First Contact, Olugosa investigates what happened to art in the great Age of Discovery when civilisations came face-to-face with each other for the first time? Although the period was unquestionably one of conquest and destruction, it was also an age of mutual curiosity, global trade and the exchange of ideas. Hidden within the paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, eighteenth century Japanese prints and the art of late Mughal Indians are strands of artistic and cultural DNA drawn from other cultures during this first age of globalisation.
Part II, The Cult of Progress, examines the explosion of change caused by the Industrial Revolution, which many viewed as the unstoppable spread of progress. Artists too struggled to depict the changing world and the fate of peoples and cultures that were radically altered. Some, including the Impressionists, worked to understand and paint what they saw, while others, such as Gauguin, fled to utopias he thought would be untouched by progress.