Don’t get me wrong. BBC4 presenters do their jobs well. As they pace their way through churches and galleries. As they strike up instant rapports with curators. You’ve got to love ’em.
But there’s little doubt that things ain’t what they used to be. If you look at an Alastair Sooke, next to a Kenneth Clark or a Robert Hughes, there’s an unmistakeable sense of devolution.
One of the strongest exhibitions in the Liverpool Biennial also harks back to the golden age of art on TV. But it takes us to Europe, where Belgian Jef Cornelis was filming in black and white with VRT.
Cornelis might well be shocked by the degeneracy of British presenters, past and present, as they find themselves in shot after shot, as they drag us along in their adventurous wake.
By contrast his films are modest, self-aware, and gifted with a feel for his subject. His film on Richard Hamilton, say, could give you back the works themselves with fresh eyes.
Cornelis achieves this with the startled zoom, the telling crop, the dramatic pan. If you thought you knew ‘just what made today’s homes so different’ [paraphrase] in 1956, maybe think again.
There is no formula. Cornelis is no slave to the broadcasting guidelines which appear to homogenize presenters on serious BBC shows, as they shout and whisper on cue.
Cornelis did his own direction, his own production, and his own scripts. His films commune with each subject and run for as long or as short as they need to. Many here run for just five minutes.
But that’s enough to give us the livewire charm of Martial Raysse, the mystery and mischief of Marcel Broodthaers, and the spaced out intellect of Andy Warhol.
Those were among the few films time permitted this blogger to sit through. But one could gladly watch Cornelis all day long. This is art TV to send you back to the gallery rather than the sofa.
A library of Jef Cornelis films (many newly translated into English) can be found at St Andrew’s Gardens, Liverpool, until 26 October 2014. See LIverpool Biennial for more details.