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The Best Contemporary Art Documentaries on YouTube

An Overview of Contemporary Art Issue's 8 Best Picks

Gerhard Richter in his studio. Film still from Gerhard Richter Painting (2011).


Isn't it wonderful to live in a day and age where the best art documentaries are just a few clicks away, anywhere and anytime? For this article, we have listed a selection of our favorite art documentaries on YouTube.


Although YouTube is a great place to find short and exciting videos on art, including interviews, studio visits, lectures or exhibition views, for this list we have focused on long-playing documentaries. All eight films are of the highest quality and can be considered as the perfect moving picture for a lazy Sunday afternoon – or any other day of the week.


The list includes documentaries on art institutions, such as Tate Modern, London, or De Pont in Tilburg (Netherlands), a selection of documentaries focusing on on a specific artist, such as Gerhard Richter, Michaël Borremans and Anselm Kiefer, but also, the ubiquitious School of London with documentaries on Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon or David Hockney.


Without any further distractions, sit back with a nice cup of coffee or some popcorn, relax, and enjoy our eight best picks of art documentaries on YouTube.



Gerhard Richter – Painting (2011) [excerpt]

(Video) Gerhard Richter in the Studio.


Gerhard Richter is arguably the most important painter of his time. The German artist has been around for over half a century on the international art scene, known for his blurry photo paintings and monumental abstract paintings made with as monumental squeegees.


In 2007 Richter appeared on camera for the first time in 15 years with a film by Corinna Belz, titled Gerhard Richter's Window. Four years later, the German painter has agreed for a follow-up picture, Gerhard Richter Painting.


The documentary shows us intriguing behind the scenes footage of Richter's creative process. We enter his studio, sit down with the artist and have intimate conversations.


This excerpt from the film on YouTube, shows us one of these intimate conversations with former director of Tate, Nicholas Serota, on the occasion of an upcoming retrospective show at Tate Modern where the film was displayed in a dark room.


If you would like to see the full picture, the entire film is available for sale and for rent on YouTube here.



Michaël Borremans – A Knife in the Eye (2009)

(Video) Michaël Borremans: A Knife in the Eye [English subs].


Michaël Borremans, born in 1963 in Geraardsbergen, Belgium, lives and works in Ghent, Belgium. Borremans is one the most prolific painters of his time, enchanting the viewer with his enigmatic and surreal compositions rendered in an old master fashion.


The documentary A Knife in the Eye follows the Belgian artist, discussing his works. Unique behind the scenes footage from his art studio in Ghent, an exhibition in David Zwirner, New York, or a visit at Appel Gallery, Amsterdam, are several passages from this intriguing documentary.


Around one hour of film, produced by Goudvis for Canvas – Belgian state television – is a true public's favorite, as is the illustrious painter Michaël Borremans.




Tate Modern – Power Into Art: The Battle for the New Tate Gallery (2000)

(Video) Power Into Art: The Battle for the New Tate Gallery (2000).


The Power Into Art Documentary was made on the occasion of the redevelopment and renovation of London's most iconic power station into an absolute powerhouse for contemporary art, Tate Modern. With a busy schedule, short in time and with many difficulties on their path, this documentary follows the steps of Nicholas Serota, the former director of Tate, the Swiss architects of Herzog de Meuron and more during this immense project for the new millennium.


Although the documentary is primarily about the construction works, it shows unique behind the scenes footage and information of one of the most important institutions of the art world. From the first phase of the construction works to the grand opening, this film gives an insight in the enormous undertaking of renovating and managing a major institution such as Tate Modern.


This YouTube video consists of the entire three part documentary offering more than three hours of film. The entire documentary is in English, narrated by Henrietta Bess with music by Mark Emney, and is directed and produced by Karl Sabbagh and Belinda Aird.


The documentary aired for the first time on Channel Four in 2000.



De Pont Museum – Space for Art (2019)

(Video) De Pont Museum: ruimte voor kunst (2019).


De Pont Museum – Space for Art is a documentary produced on the occasion of the 25th year anniversary of the unique museum De Pont. The documentary starts in their depot with former director Hendrik Driessen. Driessen calls the depot of De Pont their memory.


From this point of view, the director guides us through the history of De Pont, starting with the renovation of the industrial building, how the collection came about, encompassing artists such as Richard Serra, Berlinde De Bruyckere, Marlene Dumas, up to De Pont's latest public 'sky sculpture' by Anish Kapoor.


The one hour documentary is in Dutch and English with English subtitles when necessary. Also, we highly recommend to give the museum a visit when given the chance. The unique building offers the possibility to view the works in daylight. Further, the visiting experience seems to be entirely different than with other musea.



David Hockney – The Art of Seeing (2012)

(Video) David Hockney ~ The Art of Seeing.


And then there was the School of London.


We start of with David Hockney, a one of a kind painter and person. With a true feel for one-liners, Hockney discusses art and the art scene in the documentary The Art of Seeing.


The documentary starts off with sunrise at the beach. Such beauty in an event that happens daily, beauty that can be perceived when one knows how to look/see. Running for almost an hour, the film covers Hockney's inspirations for landscapes and series of landscapes, giving us a glimpse in the mind of the artist.


The documentary first aired on BBC 2 in 2012.



Francis Bacon – A Brush with Violence (2017)

(Video) Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence (2017).


Next we have Francis Bacon, friend and colleague of David Hockney.


Francis Bacon is an artist who doesn't need any introduction and nor should this documentary. The captivating documentary Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence – what great title by the way – shows everything you need to know on the illustrious painter's painter Francis Bacon.


Various experts and acquaintances of Bacon have their say on the man, his works and his life.



Lucian Freud – A Painted Life (2012)

(Video) Lucian Freud a Painted Life.


Dear friend of the previous two painters and an absolute painter's painter favorite today, Lucian Freud completes the trio of the London School with the documentary Lucian Freud a Painted Life. Shortly before his death, Freud gave his blessing and support, backing the documentary.


The film explores – as the title suggests – the life and work of Lucian Freud. One of the most unique fragments of this film, is Lucian Freud himself in his studio, painting one of his last works, a portrait of his assistant David Dawson (who recently published a wonderful book Lucian Freud : The Self-Portraits).


A one of a kind documentary of a one of a kind painter. A picture of A Painted Life.



Anselm Kiefer – Remembering the Future (2014) [5 parts]

(Video) 1/5 Anselm Kiefer: Remembering the Future.


To conclude this list, we have a documentary (in five parts) of one of paintings most intriguing figures, Anselm Kiefer.


Anselm Kiefer: Remembering the Future is a documentary by Jack Cocker. On the occasion of this documentary, Alan Yentob was invited to visit Kiefer's studio in Buchen, Germany en Barjac, France, for a conversation on his life, work and art and life in general.


In short, this documentary is a unique insight in Kiefer's mind, life, workspace and philosophy of his much lauded artistic universe.


(Video) 2/5 Anselm Kiefer: Remembering the Future.



(Video) 3/5 Anselm Kiefer: Remembering the Future.



(Video) 4/5 Anselm Kiefer: Remembering the Future.



(Video) 5/5 Anselm Kiefer: Remembering the Future.



Published online on 1/11/2020 by Contemporary Art Issue © 2020



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