Romancing the Stone

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BBC4 is fast becoming my headline TV channel. As a mine for all things cultural, its programmes often play like the extras on a DVD where the main feature has been on BBC2 but, increasingly, for those in the know, it provides a delightful ‘first look’ at new offerings, often premiering there – admittedly, this is code for being tested by the schedulers – before a bigger audience offering on its older, more well-known cousin.

Premiering this week promises to be an engaging and informative three-part series on the history of British sculpture. Written and presented by Alastair Sooke – the art critic and broadcaster, that is, not the similarly-sounding late inveterate letter-writer from across the pond – Romancing the Stone: The Golden Age of British Sculpture spans the breadth of Britain’s sculptural heritage, opening with the teams of itinerant medieval stone masons working on cathedral décor and running through the ages to the natural forms of Moore to the cubist, quasi-industrial forms of Anthony Caro and a certain fish pickled in formaldehyde.

But there’s more. As part of this season, the Beeb has teamed up with the Royal Academy to forge a comprehensive exploration of Britain’s sculpture heritage. Weekly screenings are running there every Friday throughout February and March, featuring new arts programming from BBC4 (including advance previews of Sooke’s series) alongside treasures from the BBC Archive, many with special guest introductions.

With the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall hosting annual Unilever-sponsored commissions and a new Hepworth museum opening soon in Yorkshire (after the eponymous 20th century modernist), evidently sculpture is carving itself into the national psyche as never before. And with names such as Gormley, Hirst and Kapoor becoming household and offering sell-out exhibitions, and headlines being made for the likes of Mark Wallinger’s White Horse striding the Kent countryside, are we entering a new golden age of British sculpture?

We could even call it a new Stone Age. (Sorry.)

Screenings are free although spaces are limited. For a full programme, visit the website. BBC Four’s Focus on Sculpture begins 9th February with Romancing the Stone at 9pm.

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