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Andrew Graham-Dixon Goes Public

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Now for arts and night, presented by Andrew Graham Dixon.


I've been a professional art critic for more than three decades and in


that time I've come to believe that the essential power of art comes in


the ability of art to provoke people to think about their lives in new


and unexpected ways. For my edition of this programme, I want to explore


that process in action, to eavesdrop on the actual conversations people


have in art galleries, and I think the results will surprise you.


And, in fact, if statistics are to be believed, we are now


Don't think you're allowed to, but I agree, you want to stroke it.


Last year alone, nearly 5 million of us flocked to Tate Modern


I'm really weirded out that that is a self-portrait...


Sometimes we're left perplexed, or simply nonplussed.


All I think is, what if it's upside down?


But what is really going on inside people's heads


as they gaze at a Henry Moore sculpture or a Francis


No, long gone - too much medication, too much shock treatment.


In a unique experiment with the Tate, we invited


a cross-section of British society to reveal just what they think


of some of our most famous public artworks.


OK, hear me out - there's an element of a three-way going on there.


Using concealed cameras, we eavesdropped on their often frank


conversations as they came face to face with a range of works that


deal with love, family and friendship.


Their reactions were varied and surprising ?


Proof - if proof be needed ? that, while experts can help us


better understand art, we don't always need them


I think that hand up is very striking.


Yes, you could lie in there like a cat.


The first work to come under the spotlight was this bronze


sculpture made in 1949 by Henry Moore ? regarded


as ground-breaking in his time, but apparently less so today.


It's a bit old-fashioned in some ways, isn't it,


So they still have a little way to go.


Very interesting how both aren't even looking at the child.


Yes, looks like he is handing the baby over cos he's had enough.


We're not used to having the conventional nuclear family


It's not really been our experience in life.


There's something about this that brings a smile to my face.


Is that them with their little newborn baby?


But, as with all great artists, their work can mean very different


And the fact that Moore made this work to celebrate the birth


of his only and long-awaited child clearly struck a chord with this


couple, Oliver and Melissa, with baby Maxwell.


To be fair, he's got a six pack, which I am working towards.


He'd just turned 29, cos our birthdays are only


I'm a year older and he's younger so I'm a cougar,


And I think a year into the relationship we had


a conversation about when we wanted children, and I said I sensed that


possibility there could be something wrong.


I had a very bad infection when I was a teenager that


scarred my tubes so there was a very small chance I could get pregnant


and, if I were to get pregnant, there's a 5% chance it would be


So they said the best thing to do was have the tubes


If you'd have told me just then what we would have gone through now,


you still would not comprehend cos it was just...


I don't think there's a reading on this.


It would be nice to see if they struggled like we did.


There is something about it that jumps out, that they went


Because we were given such positive information,


It was just the tube thing and it should happen first time.


When it didn't happen first time, we were not prepared


at all and we just couldn't get out of this dark place of doom.


That was the only time I thought our relationship was truly


on the rocks and we might not be able to come back together cos


we were each depressed, each in our low and we couldn't get


The places that we were within ourselves and in our relationship...


Yeah, I didn't know where he was and he didn't know


We didn't even think we'd get a positive test.


I think she's proud that she conquered and she did this.


The thing that captivates, where we were, it's not like a smile


It's just tranquil confidence that we've actually achieved it.


You have just described it - that is what is in their eyes.


We still look at Maxwell and we can't believe


he's ours and I always thank him for coming and being our son.


People didn't live that long in them ages.


If she was 40, what, back in the 1500s,


Real quick and she probably had a second kid already!


They say to keep politics out of religion and to keep religion out of


politics but when were they ever separate? Lord but look my child.


Gender politics lies at the heart of this large-scale drawing


by Sonia Boyce, in which she depicts herself as two very different


It's like an alter ego, so it's like the Christian who's


praying who's got the eyes closed and the Rastafarian has


got her hand up saying, "Talk to that, my eyes are open,


I haven't read it yet, but looking at it, he's doing


the praying MP and she's laying down ready for MS and she's thinking,


Oh, that's true, it's actually a woman...


In tackling religion, politics and feminism head on,


Boyce's work seems calculated to divide opinion.


I think that hand up is very striking.


So are you saying the lady in the dress is saying,


"I've had enough, you're not going to control me any more?"


"I'm going off, I'm going my way", all flamboyant -


I think I went through that journey when I got here...


Coming here from Nigeria, I felt like an immigrant


because I hadn't grown up here so I really felt detached


from our community, detached from everything I knew.


And it was the Church that kind of made it easier to settle


here so it was a big part of us when we came here in the '90s.


But, in last five years or so, I started questioning,


so I've kind of stepped back a bit from the Church,


finding out about different faiths, about different world views,


different ideology, and I'm trying to make up my own mind.


I'm questioning a lot of this cos suddenly I see it just controlling


women and that's how I would link...


Yeah, I really started seeing religion as controlling women,


trying to get women to obey, all this, you know, submit


to your husband in every area of life.


There is inequality between men and women, it's as simple as that.


And Dapo, he is a feminist to a point because there are men,


especially African men, who would not do 1% of what Dap does


in the home, and I am really grateful that he is like that but,


on the other hand, I get angry that people are baffled


It shouldn't be anything special, you know?


So are you saying you don't see any kind of religion


Maybe you've got a point but maybe I don't see it the way you see it.


The only thing I do see is that women follow easily


without questioning whereas men are a lot more "prove it to me",


The benefits of the feminist views...


Ideally, I would like to plead the fifth, because none readily jump


out at me, unless you can help me out?


I know I don't do anything to perpetuate, to hold women down.


I'm trying to choose my words carefully, so I don't get shot


We don't shoot down, we make changes.


The colours are fabulous, the only thing I don't like actually


Well, it's more skin-like, isn't it, and the purple's unexpected.


These two are a lot more flowing, he must have had an off day


She's not sat on a chair though, is she?


It doesn't look muscular, it looks...


I would say, personally, they are all men.


Do you know what, this is my holiday home.


This is me, sitting there with my Pepsi Max


I think it shows calm and serenity on one side


and then it shows chaos on the other side and,


and it is probably symbolic of something


that was going on his life at the time.


David Hockney produced A Bigger Splash in 1967,


the same year that homosexuality was decriminalised in Britain,


making him a poster boy for a new generation.


But the freedoms the law promised, Hockney realised, could at that time


He might be on his own there, but he's making a bigger


He's jumping in and there's a bit of freedom to it.


Yeah, but I was just sort of thinking if I look back on myself


I was only married for about three years


and it was a terrible, terrible mistake, and if I had been


now of course I wouldn't have got married but in those days


the feelings, the feelings, the attitudes, the assumptions


And people say to people now, "Why did you get married"?


And that's a question that doesn't relate to the context


And I just assumed that all the feelings I had


in the '50s and '60s would simply go away, that being married


was what you did and that that would be in the past.


And then I had to realise that that wasn't how it was.


You could argue I'm a bit envious of the fact that someone


in 1967 could leave his home country and be a gay man and go


to the relative freedom of California, cos not everybody


and its only in recent times that we are able to feel it.


I mean, for us being able to do our civil registration,


what, two years ago, was something you wouldn't have


conceived of as being possible in 1967.


And here we are now in sort of married bliss.


Yeah, we thought if we were going to live together then let's


Probably we just think it's a normal thing


I mean we do still have to explain to people,


Yeah, well, recently I was accused of being your brother, wasn't I?


They went, "Oh, are you two brothers",


It's even worse when they say am I your father!


in California is that you could argue he's solitary


but at the same time he's able to have a ball with,


in a sense, whoever he wants to, but particularly


And so the splash is a celebration I expect, isn't it?


More than a celebration, it's an activity.


Oh, I don't know what Aunt Ethel would say!


I'm scared of the dead person in the middle.


It's too weird, and what are all the little flowers for?


Well, it's a celebration of something.


It doesn't look like a celebration to me!


Everyone is climbing out of their graves.


Donald Rodney, In The House Of My Father.


Donald Rodney took this arresting photograph of his hand,


when he was being treated in hospital for sickle cell anaemia,


a debilitating, hereditary disease that eventually killed him.


You know with sickle cell it can be hereditary so maybe


Or maybe he got it from his father,


Yeah, and there's a nail through his skin


Maybe the pins are a symbol of needles.


When you have crisis it's like a pins and needles feeling


When I was diagnosed, I was diagnosed


at the age of four, so at that age I weren't too sure what sickle cell


was but I knew it was something serious and I knew whenever


I was tired and fatigued and my joints began to swell,


there was something going on and I knew I had to go


Recently, over the last two years I've experienced a lot


of admittances to hospital, and when that happens


there are three people I think about.


they know what I'll be feeling, and feeling mentally


She's a very strong person and likes to put up


a front, like she's well and, "I'm fine, I'm fine".


So I am genuinely always concerned for her and always make


I feel funny talking about this, you know.


Cos he did die, you know, he did die of sickle cell.


You try to hold yourself together all the time.


I don't know what that is all about, do you?


Yes, that could be it, that's more like it,


Yes, you and I are too old for this sort of out.


First thing that comes to my mind is...


I would have gone the other way, more female parts than that.


The wrap for me is just like a studded manly type of thing


This challenging sculpture by Cathy de Monchaux was always


bound to provoke a spirited debate, especially between couples.


But for some it resonated even deeper.


It's a bit zippy and there's something kind of very


Yes, that crushed red velvet. Yeah.


There is a touch of that, "Let me get in...


In some ways I feel I have the urban legend mum.


And sometimes I forget that my mum is my mum.


I feel like I've got my best friend because


you know, she has always encouraged me to be myself


and that's been the only expectation, and to be honest.


I suppose I've always insisted on being myself


and Leng has had to do that as well.


I like the nuts and bolts, they look quite brutal, bit kinky.


I mean, obviously there is lots of labia.


It is quite ambiguous cos although, yes, it's labia but also


I love the fact that underneath the first layer it's not,


Well, it really should really be my chat up line,


I'd always known since I was small that I definitely


was male, but I wasn't born that way, so wearing female clothing just


Yes, you came in from school wearing a little


yellow mini skirt and T-shirt and long hair and it looked fabulous


and he came in from school pulling at this skirt saying,


"I don't ever want to wear a skirt again",


and I said, "Well, you don't have to wear a skirt again,


darling", cos there was obviously something behind this.


The thing is when you feel trapped and you feel your life


isn't your own, you feel isolated, and it's a very scary feeling.


And statistically a lot of trans people have had these feelings.


Looking at it actually it does really hit a few personal


I mean, usually when I tell people I am trans it's


like usually great, but then it's like a reflex they can't


help so it's like, "So have you had that


straight at my groin area and, you know, when I first meet


I don't go, "Oh, by the way, how big's yours?"


The nice thing is now when I look in the mirror


at myself I feel comfortable with what I look at cos it's taken


a long time to look the way I do now, and that's from a lot of work


but it's also from feeling proud and happy with who I am.


I think since you've had your chest surgery you have


I mean that is just one of the most amazing things,


But sometimes I feel like a secret agent or a double


agent almost, as I navigate the world because sometimes I'm read


as too male for some spaces, or not read


as male enough, and even now that can be challenging.


because in their view you are different, that they feel


they can just ask you anything quite boldly?


Yeah, cos I realise then that people stop looking at me


I feel like an exhibit, almost like that, cos first thing


we said when we looked at it, we were like, "What is it"?


And that actually happens to me in reverse.


Suddenly I go from being Leng, being read as a male,


It's interesting that you thought Venus fly trap.


That was before we even understood it,


I just thought that was a hardcore man machine.


Well, the reason it's not hardcore man machine


Don't worry, Son, we will talk about this in 12 years' time!


I would not like to go for a burial at all. Cremation every time for me.


I wouldn't have it in my house. I probably would. I like that. Weird,


though. It is quite dizzying. I know what you mean. Go and look at


something else. The weather is looking a little hit


and miss across the UK. There will be a big temperature contrast, mild


weather in the south and cold weather in the


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