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Columbia Professors Host Two Summer Series on PBS

Two Columbia University professors will host separate eight-part public television series this summer.

University Professor Simon Schama will host "Simon Schama's Power of Art," a series that begins airing Monday, June 18. Gwendolyn Wright, a professor of architecture as well as history, will co-host "History Detectives," which begins airing Monday, June 25.

Simon Schama
"Art is the enemy of the routine, the mechanical and the humdrum. It stops us in our tracks with a high voltage jolt of disturbance; it reminds us of what humanity can do beyond the daily grind. It takes us places we had never dreamed of going; it makes us look again at what we had taken for granted." - Simon Schama

Photo courtesy of PBS

Art Power

Schama's series will explore dramatic turning points in the lives of eight artists and the masterpieces that changed the way the world looks at art.

Throughout the series, Schama zeroes in on a pivotal moment in each artist's life while confronting the broader questions: Does art triumph over commerce? What can art do in the face of atrocity?  The series melds dramatic re-enactments, location shooting and art photography, all linked by Schama’s storytelling.

"This is not a series about things that hang on walls; it is not about decor or prettiness," Schama says. "It is a series about the force, the need, the passion of art -- the power of art."

The eight artists and their major works, in broadcast order, are:

• Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and Wheatfield With Crows

• Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Guernica

• Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) and David With the Head of Goliath

• Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) and The Ecstasy of St. Theresa

• Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) and The Conspiracy of the Batavians Under Claudius Civilis

• Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) and The Death of Marat

• J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On)

• Mark Rothko (1903-1970) and the Seagram murals.

"The Power of Art" premieres Monday, June 18, at 9:00 p.m. on PBS Channel 13 in New York, with a second episode at 10:00 p.m. The series continues on consecutive Mondays, June 25-July 30, 2007, 10:00-11:00 p.m. Check the WNET Web site for a listing of additional show times.

Detecting History

Professor Wright returns for another season as one of four co-hosts of "History Detectives," the critically acclaimed series now in its fifth season. The other fact-finders include an appraiser, an art historian and a sociology professor.

Gwendolyn Wright
Gwendolyn Wright, left, with "History Detectives" camera crew.

Photo courtesy of PBS


Season five features a broad array of fascinating objects representative of numerous eras, social concerns and notable individuals from US history, including:

• Early radio -- an aluminum record purchased at a flea market with the words "Amos & Andy" written on its label.

• Frontline journalism -- a typewriter that may have belonged to the famous WWII journalist Ernie Pyle, America's most beloved battlefront correspondent.

• Women's right to vote -- a painting, purchased at a garage sale, pictures a Joan of Arc-like herald on a horse and the words "Official Program Woman Suffrage Procession Washington D.C. March 3, 1913."

• Human rights activist -- a book emblazoned with the name and address of the legendary 19th-century anarchist Lucy Parsons, who championed rights for the poor and disenfranchised.

• Allied leaders -- a single slip of paper, dated July 25, 1942, signed by almost every luminary on the Allied side of World War II, from Eisenhower to Churchill to Roosevelt.

The new season premieres Monday, June 25, at 9:00 p.m. on PBS Channel 13 in New York. Check the WNET Web site for a listing of additional show times.

Published: June 15, 2007
Last modified: Jul 19, 2007