Art History Radio: Julie Enfield Investigates-The Art of the Matter

Julie Enfield Investigates

Caught this on BBC iPlayer (no longer available now).  The radio drama revolves around four plots.  The main plot belongs to an art theft that Detective Inspector Julie Enfield (Imelda Staunton) devotes to her inquiry.  The second belongs to the thief who narrates about art.  The third has a woman artist (named Kath Dyer, I think) who does the same thing.  The fourth and last goes to the relationship between Enfield and her father.  The rest devotes to an endless amount of name dropping artists such as George Braques.   The theme of artists as rebels and Contemporary art’s divisive position in the world comes in and out in this episode.

Cut for spoilers

In a voice that implies a less than sound mind, the narrating thief known as Jack “The Whistle” Stevens talks about breaking an artist’s fingers.  I wonder if the writers intended to reference James MacNeil Whistler with the thief’s name.  To give him a sinister edge, he references Damien Hirst and how Hirst’s Formaldehyde inspired a killer.  His theft?  He steals Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of a Woman”.  However, I may have this title wrong because when I looked up the title, I found a sketch and “Portrait of a Young Woman”.   Amusingly, he does not understand why the Klimt cost so much money.  The contempt for Klimt goes deeper as people claim “anyone could have done what he did”.  A little mind-boggling to me, because usually people say that when Jackson Pollock comes up in the conversation.  For those wanting to know how this art theft ends, I’ll give you a hint.  It shares similarity to the Mona Lisa subplot from The Final Problem adaptation from Granada Television’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

In various monologues, artist Kath Dyer waxes about artists who challenged society and went penniless because of it.  She mentions Cubism and Surrealism as starting to rebel well before the sixties and how it has evolved into the free for all we see today.   The usual.  Anyone who has ever studied these will have heard it all before.

Probably my favorite scene comes from when Enfield consults a member from the “Art Squad”.  He paints a picture of art thievery’s reality.  Mentions steals of Van Goghs and Cézanne as “political leverage”.  Other thefts include art from Rembrandt , Renoir, Dali, and Chagall, but Picasso remains the most stolen.  I wonder if this hold truth in real life.

Julie Enfield’s father takes on the typical critic of Contemporary art.  He repeats the usual clichés of how “I could ha’ done that” and how landscape paintings were superior.  Probably intended as ironic because of earlier mention of Van Gogh’s landscapes were quite controversial.  Also, I think we’re meant to look down on Enfield’s father because of his narrow-minded beliefs.  But it feels so trite.  The whole subplot between her father falling in love with contemporary art thanks to Kath Dyer resembles something out of a sitcom.  I have heard these conversations a hundred times already.

This episode practically name drops every artist that one can find from a Eurocentric art history survey book.  Except for Francisco Goya and Rembrandt, most of the artists the show references come from the Modern and Contemporary eras.

I am sort of mixed about whether I like this episode.  I enjoyed the scenes with the Art Squad, but I did not follow the series after this one.

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