The modern art movement took root in early 20th century Paris among a motley collection of iconoclastic personalities who sought to expand on the Impressionist breakthroughs of the late 19th century with bold, eccentric and often outlandish visions that gave birth to Fauvism, Cubism, Dadaism, and Surrealism. This mix of visual artists, poets and intellectuals worked their way out of poverty and obscurity, supported along the way by energetic art dealers, collectors and gallery owners who put value in their works.
This six-part documentary series was produced for French television in 2015 and offers an inventive mix of vintage photographs and film footage with new animation that recreates the seedy yet invigorating environment that allowed the modern art movement to percolate. To its credit, the series provides a visually inventive way to present a story that has already been told more than a few times. It also offers an honest consideration of the cruelties, neuroses and inanities that shaped the ill-mannered behavior of some of these historic figures, most notably the complex and unpredictable Picasso.
To its demerit, however, the production cannot possibly encompass the entire depth and scope of the early modern art movement into a sextet of 52-minute episodes. A great deal of the output created by the visual artists and authors cited in the series is not shown, which creates an odd imbalance where the viewer hears a lot about landmark artwork and writing but is never fully acquainted with its contents. Also, a surplus number of personalities are crammed in, with uneven attention give across the lineup – Picasso and the writer Apollinaire receive the lion’s share of depth, while icons such as Duchamp and Modigliani receive far less attention and others including Chagall receive fleeting mention.
Nonetheless, this can serve as a pleasant introduction to the subject, and the curious viewer can use this as a springboard for further study.