Since its earliest days, British television has served as a reference point for creative dialogue between contemporary art and television. As early as 1938, the artist and critic John Piper (Epsom, 1903; - Fawley Bottom, 1992) was appearing in a studio to talk about modern art. Today, the means of broadcast and reception have become decentralised and fragmented. Television as the supreme medium of directed mass culture is in decline and its audience, which was once captive, is dispersed among hundreds of satellite and cable channels, DVDs, videogames and 3G mobile phones. The moment when leisure time was filled with the great cultural television projects that so distinguished the second half of the 20th century will not be repeated. Remote Control features a selection of some of the most historical moments in the history of the relationship between art and television.
This powerful medium, which continues to be synonymous with a passive lack of culture for some, has been traditionally consumed at a very low level (or on the quiet) by the educated classes. However, a constant debate both within and outside the medium on the nature and needs of different audiences, the aim of programmes about art, the appropriateness of television language, the importance of the technology (audiovisual and artistic), the degree of authority or subjectivity, of instruction or entertainment, etc., has resulted in a variety of projects. If art is a laboratory of social identities, it is also where the same broadcasting institutions have entertained a diverse, agile and reflexive identity. While staying true to its journalistic spirit, the most audacious cultural television has revolutionised how art is understood, reflecting and transcending its expressiveness to reach a true collaboration with contemporary art. Out of a multitude of formats that mediate between the visual arts and a public that is notoriously sceptical about them, landmarks range from Monitor (1958-1965), a pioneering and enduring programme that launched filmmakers like Ken Russell (Hampshire, 1927-2011) to The Shock of the New, directed and presented by Robert Hughes (Sidney, 1938) in 1980, a unique monument in which he put forth his personal view of “the 20th century through the lens of art”. With these and other examples, the programme Remote Control does not so much aspire to trace the profile of this rich, complex history as to share some of its jewels and identify some of the best future trends.