Everyone’s a Critic

Can art invoke the same spectator reactions from ordinary Aussies as TV does on Gogglebox?

If there’s a show on TV more diverse than Everyone’s a Critic I’m struggling to think of it.

Clearly inspired by Gogglebox the 9 part series brings ‘ordinary’ Aussies before paintings, sculptures and photographs to provoke a reaction. Expect that to range from deep emotional responses to cynicism and more.

Across a 30 minute episode, duos (and one trio) surmise the same artworks but their reactions are varied. In the opening episode they attend the NGV Ian Potter Centre in Melbourne which exhibits all-Australian work.

The first subject is of pink planets (2014) by artist Del Kathryn Barton. It’s a striking homage to motherhood, rich in colours and which nods to goddesses.

Where Nigerian sisters Ebube and Amaka describe it as “provocative”, gay Indigenous friends Levi, Garret and J-Maine see a “Galactic Queen.” But for Gerard, who has Down Syndrome, the work has “too much colour.”

And for Juliette and Rick, who have been married for 43 years, it triggers a memory about their early marriage. Muslim mother & daughter Majidah and Malika can’t help but notice “so many breasts.”

Accompanying each critique, narrator Kat Stewart provides a snapshot profile of the artist and their style. In these moments we move from observational to documentary, but it isn’t jarring nor long before we are back in the gallery for another subject.

Next up is the very spartan Cahill Expressway, a 1962 work by Jeffrey Smart. Tracey and Kelly have been friends for 45 years but it this is Kelly’s first-ever visit to a gallery (seriously). The solitude in Smart’s painting strikes a note with her about the loneliness she experienced when she was 145 kilos. Levi, Garret and J-Maine also reflect on their own isolation growing up gay in rural Australia.

Others to appear in the first episode include young blokes Harry and Maurice, who struggled with many of the works and Sicilian grandmother Maria and her teen granddaughter Monique. Two more pairs will be introduced in the next episode.

They will encounter surrealist sculpture (“I don’t see art here”), a photo tableau on Indigenous slavery (“I’m emotional”) and a painting on white settlement (“We came here because my parents wanted a better life for us kids”).

As the critics respond to the art they often link it back to moments in their own life, which is crucial for us to connect as characters. It isn’t always clear how much context they are given about the artworks -are they reading gallery signage, or are they supplied more descriptors? The music soundtrack also heavily influences the way the viewer is introduced to the work whether light or emotive.

Gogglebox works brilliantly because the TV footage is a shared experience and throwing barbs from the couch is a bit of an Australian sport.

But as Common Sense proves (news reviews in case you had already forgotten) it can’t always be applied to another subject. Everyone’s a Critic is necessarily more worthy, so even the most cynical of observers is fairly polite by comparison. That means the punchlines can’t match those of Gogglebox, but the ambition is also different, to make art more accessible to middle Australia.

If it can go part of the way to achieving that, it shouldn’t take 45 years for other people to step inside a gallery.

Everyone’s A Critic premieres 8:50pm Thursday June 28 on ABC.

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