"In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes” is probably the best known quote attributed to Andy Warhol. Warhol was an American artist who became a superstar in the visual art movement known as Pop Art. He crossed the boundaries between art and celebrity becoming famous for what we now call branding, but the private Warhol was a deeply religious man and to his close relatives was known simply as ‘Uncle Andy’. In a world where some of what he predicted has come true, we look back at the life and work of this iconic figure.
With Bridget Kendall to explore Andy Warhol are Eric Shiner the former Director of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh USA and New York Director of London’s White Cube, Professor Jean Wainwright the British art historian and curator and a leading expert on Warhol and Andy Warhol’s nephew, the artist and illustrator James Warhola.
(Photo: Andy Warhol. Credit: Ullstein Bild/Getty Images)
Coco Chanel: French style icon
“I didn’t like my life, so I created my life,” the French fashion designer, Coco Chanel declared. And what a life it was: from her humble beginnings in an orphanage, Chanel blazed a trail as a fiercely independent woman, rising to become the toast of French high society. She mixed with the artists who defined modernism in the 1920s and ‘30s, and created a fashion empire which today is a multi-billion dollar business that still dominates the luxury clothes and accessories market.
The suit, the little black dress and the handbag are just some of the items Chanel shaped in a career which covered much of the 20th century. Luxurious and elegant, but also practical, her designs gave women freedom to move and pursue the kinds of activities which were now opening up as society’s barriers were being broken down.
But the woman herself was a web of contradictions. While she contributed to the emancipation of rich women, she limited her workers’ rights. And controversially, she was involved with a Nazi officer in occupied France during World War II. She even tried to capitalise on Nazi laws to seize back her hugely profitable perfume business, having previously sold the majority shares to a Jewish family.
Joining Bridget Kendall to discuss the complex life of Coco Chanel are dress historian Amy de la Haye, author of Chanel: Couture and Industry and professor at the London College of Fashion; fashion historian Emilie Hammen from the Institut Français de la Mode in Paris; and Madelief Hohé, curator of the fashion and costume department at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, and the author of Femmes Fatales: Strong Women in Fashion.
Image: Coco Chanel
Credit: Roger Viollet/Getty Images
Nineteen Eighty-Four: Orwell's dystopian classic
The vision of the future evoked in George Orwell’s last novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was so terrifying to its first readers that some claimed to be unable to sleep at night. When the book was adapted by the BBC for the new medium of television after Orwell’s death, millions became aware of the novel’s concepts and language which have since seeped into Western popular culture. Big Brother, Room 101, the thought police, doublethink: few novels of the 20th century have had such a lasting impact.
Over the seventy years since its publication, world events have brought Orwell’s vision into focus at various points. The Cold War, the collapse of Communism, the rise of surveillance, and the inauguration of President Trump are among those moments in history which have made readers return to the novel time and again.
Joining Bridget Kendall to discuss the origins of Orwell’s novel and its ongoing relevance are Professor John Rodden, author of George Orwell: Life and Letters, Legend and Legacy; journalist and writer Dorian Lynskey whose biography of Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Ministry of Truth, was published in 2019; and editor of the George Orwell Society Journal Masha Karp, writer of the forthcoming George Orwell and Russia (Bloomsbury Academic).
Photo: A man holding a German translation of George Orwell's 1984. (Adam Berry/Getty Images)
The Spartans: Ancient Greece’s fighting machine
For over two and a half thousand years the Ancient Greek Spartans have been known for their military might, discipline and self-sacrifice. Recent popular culture has portrayed them as the ultimate fearless warriors, especially ‘the 300’ Spartans who fought to the death at Thermopylae. But where does this image come from, and what do we really know about Spartan society and the peculiar utopia it tried to create? The city-state of Sparta has been admired for its stability, frugality, and the unusual social and sexual freedom of its women. But Sparta was also famous for its brutality towards its huge slave population, its authoritarian rule, and its policy of racial purity and eugenics that would eventually prove its undoing.
Bridget Kendall talks to Christy Constantakopoulou, Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London; Paul Rahe, Professor of History at Hillsdale College in the US; and Angie Hobbs, Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield.
Photo: Statue of King Leonidas in Sparta, Greece (TPopova/Getty Images)
Leeuwenhoek: The fabric seller who discovered bacteria
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek opened up a whole new world to us; he was the first to observe bacteria and other microscopic lifeforms which could not be seen by the naked eye. He is now regarded as the father of microbiology and yet he had neither scientific training nor university education, and spent his life first as a linen merchant and then a civil servant in a small Dutch city.
To understand quite how game-changing Leeuwenhoek’s discoveries were, you have to imagine a world where just about everyone on the planet could only see things that were within the range of unaided human eyesight. Magnifying glasses were the preserve of a privileged few, and other optical instruments, such as simple telescopes and microscopes, were rarer still. So it’s little wonder that Leeuwenhoek was met with disbelief when he claimed that he had seen bustling, vibrant lifeforms in what for everyone was just a drop of clear, pure water.
To find out how this extraordinarily curious Dutchman arrived at his discoveries, Rajan Datar is joined by Elisabeth Entjes who is one of the editors of Leeuwenhoek’s Collected Letters, Tiemen Cocquyt who as curator at the Boerhaave Museum of the history of science in Leiden has a special interest in Leeuwenhoek’s microscopes, and by biochemist and writer Nick Lane who is professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry at University College London.
(Photo: Antonie van Leeuwenhoek's microscope. Credit: Rijksmuseum Boerhaave)