Will Gompertz is the BBC’s arts editor and ten years ago he brought his show Double Art History to the Fringe. This year’s he’s back for another hour of educational entertainment, fittingly taking place in one of the University of Edinburgh’s lecture halls. All audience members are provided with mock exam papers, which they are expected to sit at the end of the show.
After an opening gag involving Gompertz being roped into covering for an art history lecturer, proceedings kick off with a quiz, with audience members calling out whether the painting on screen is by Monet or Manet. Gompertz uses this as a springboard to explain Impressionism: what it is, when and where it emerged, and who its main practitioners were.
He goes on to cover the major movements in modern art history, from pointillism to abstract expressionism. It is likely that a lot of this will already be familiar to audience members, although Gompertz does mention one or two less well-known artists, such as Berthe Morisot, a largely forgotten Impressionist painter from the 19th century. Mostly, though, he sticks with the greats: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso, etc.
Arguably it would be impossible not to include these important figures, but it’s nonetheless disappointing how exclusively Western (and largely white and male) Gompertz’s version of art history is. Gompertz mentions in passing, for instance, the influence African art had on Picasso, but no examples of African art are shown to substantiate this. Plus, by attempting to compress about a century’s worth of art history into the space of just an hour, Double Art History – The Sequel ends up feeling very rushed.
Some use is made of audience interaction, with three members of the audience coming up on stage to re-enact a scene in Gompertz’s book, which he reads out. This is amusing, but it takes up a lot of time in a show already pressed for time. Furthermore, it comes across as a bit of a shameless plug for Gompertz’s book, which he urges audience members to buy after the show.
There are certainly more fun shows to see at the Fringe, but as an art history ‘lesson’, it is very entertaining. Gompertz is an engaging, enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable teacher, and although he won’t have many audience members guffawing in their seats, he is amusing in a polite, British sort of way.