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Review: National Gallery


Director: Frederick Wiseman

Runtime: 180 mins

National Gallery deals with the marketing and publicity of The National Gallery in London, the restoration process of paintings, budget cuts and customer experience within the gallery, interspersed with brilliant high definition shots of masterpieces, young artists perched behind easels, life drawing classes, and art history lessons from gallery stewards.

The National Gallery is alive within the film, playing an extra character like those behemoths before it: Manhattan in Sex and the City, or the outback in Australia. The National Gallery lives, breathes, affects the space, the action and the atmosphere. A must for both art lovers and documentary-philes, the cinematography is brilliant and astonishing.

One particular scene sees a young art teacher before a class of children, fittingly describing the universality of art. In maths, you are either right or wrong, he explains, but in art, there are multiple facets, opinions and explanations, and no definitive correct answer. This scene is the epitome of the film: the aspects of the gallery are seemingly infinite, as we are shown behind the closed doors only to find another and another; as every question of “how do they do that?” is answered, another question is raised. National Gallery sets out as a beautiful documentary, recording and detailing the ins and outs of the gallery and the art works within it, but it becomes an exploration of life, people and the human condition.

Perhaps self-reflexively, National Gallery becomes a piece of art itself while simultaneously questioning what constitutes art – as public patrons look at artworks, they too are being watched. The faces that are looking are reflected against those they are looking at, and thus the cycle of art continues.

– Zoe Winther

National Gallery was released on March 5 and is now showing at Cinema Nova


Zoe Winther
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