The National Gallery, the splendidly accessible repository of European art that overlooks Trafalgar Square, is the subject of Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary. Typically epic in length (and unencumbered with explanatory labels), the film focuses less on the inner workings than on the art itself, considering how and why the gallery and its visitors apprehend its value.
“Turning his camera on works of art and the people who steer the distinguished London complex, the grand old man of hands-off documentaries… spent 12 weeks in the National Gallery in 2012, where his focus largely rested on Old Master paintings, the people who lecture before them, those who conserve them, and the staff dedicated to preserving the museum’s reputation as one of the greatest art collections in the world.
His camera rests on canvases and panels, showing first general views and then moving in to look at details – something museum visitors are often too intimidated to do alone… The goal is the same as that of the docents seen discussing art with the general public: concentrate attention on the paintings to break through any barrier of age or subject educating the eye to look closely.” — Jay Weissberg, Variety
“The film’s copious range of explanations and contexts for the paintings on display – and how they are displayed and why, how they are restored and what the effect is – fully transform National Gallery into a richly contemporaneous essay on the curation, exhibition, reception, and preservation of culture in our time.” — Daniel Kasman, Mubi