Five art documentaries that caused ripples in the industry – The Upcoming

Five art documentaries that caused ripples in the industry


Everyone has been there, turning on the TV and not being able to find anything to watch. Though sometimes it’s great to relax to a heartfelt comedy, some nights just beg for something more thought-provoking to get the teeth stuck into.

On one of those nights of craving for a captivating true story, here are five great art documentaries that inform and inspire, touching on controversies, revolutionary figures, and suspect motivations that caused ripples in the industry.

Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures (2016)

Not too long after the controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe died from Aids, the National Endowment of the Arts in the USA exhibited some of Mapplethorpe’s racy and sexualised images. This caused a conservative Senator, Jesse Helms, to become outraged, telling people to “look at the pictures”, the phrase that gave this documentary its name.

This film takes a look into Mapplethorpe’s career, from his start in New York, to working with the pornography and S&M community, to his refined studio portraits, keeping the potent photographs at the forefront of the narrative.

The Men from the Agency (2002)

The Men from the Agency examines the three men who went on to revolutionise British politics, film, and art after meeting in the basement of an advertising agency in London. Through the things they learned in advertising, they transformed the perception of the public, glamorising these industries.

In this documentary, the influence of David Puttnam, Alan Parker, and Charles Saatchi is put under a fine lens, looking at how they went from social outsiders to the ultimate insiders. Even to this day, Saatchi continues to change the face of popular British culture.

Whoever Heard of a Black Artist? Britain’s Hidden Art History (2018)

Brenda Emmanus follows acclaimed artist Sonia Boyce in the run up to a 2018 exhibition of modernist art at Manchester Art Gallery which highlights revolutionary artists of African and Asian descent.

This BBC4 documentary takes a deep dive into the shameful whitewashing of British art history. After three years of research, she discovers over 2,000 works that have fallen victim to an inherently racist system as far back as the 1960s.

Guest of Cindy Sherman (2008)

Artist Cindy Sherman was famously known for being incredibly camera shy, closely guarding her private life from the snooping eyes of the press. However, after inviting videographer Paul H-O to her studio, their romantic relationship spawned the creation of this intimate documentary.

The filmmaker’s motivations are of course suspicious, but this film shot over the course of 15 years is extremely compelling to watch, offering a personal view into the world that Sherman inhabits.

Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film (2006)

Potentially best known for his famous Marilyn Monroe portraits or Campbell’s soup screen prints, Andy Warhol is a world-renowned art icon. For any Warhol or art fan, this documentary is an absolute must watch.

With rare archival film footage, on-camera interviews, and an array of material shot by Warhol himself, it paints a portrait of the much-loved artist, rightfully earning a 100% critic’s score on Rotten Tomatoes.

So, whether someone is an artist, art lover, or just loves a compelling documentary, all that is left to do is to get the popcorn at the ready and get watching these fantastic films.

The editorial unit