Entertainment & Arts

Show me the Manet: Would you pay to see art in the cinema?

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionWatch how Royal Academy and Seventh Art Productions made their exhibition into a feature film

At your local cinema this weekend you might enjoy a night at New York's Metropolitan Opera or the dancing troupes of the Bolshoi Ballet, but would you pay money to watch an art exhibition on the big screen?

A new film, Manet: Portraying Life, hopes to start a trend and tempt audiences from the galleries into the auditoriums.

"The last thing we want is for people to consider this as an alternative," says director Phil Grabsky, whose production gives a behind-the-scenes tour of the Royal Academy of Art's latest sell-out show.

"But most of our audience don't have the opportunity to get to London or get a ticket."

Produced in collaboration with the Academy and Seventh Art Productions, the Manet film will be screened in more than 29 countries, including Guatemala, Chile and Hungary.

"Manet is proving to be one of our most successful exhibitions that we've ever mounted," says Kathleen Soriano, director of exhibitions at the RA.

"We always knew the exhibition would be incredibly popular - we want to make sure as many people as possible can see it."

Grabsky, who has been filming exhibitions for more than a decade, tested the format with his film Leonardo Live in 2009 and now wants his name to become synonymous with art in cinemas.

"My objective is to bring the biggest exhibitions from the biggest galleries," he says.

Funding the projects himself, Grabsky is hopeful his productions will prove as popular as other event cinema.

"It's clearly a risk and it ultimately depends on bums on seats," he says. "It's costing me a lot of money."

Image caption Manet: Portraying Life film will be for people who want to "dig a little deeper" into the exhibition

Alternative cinema is a growing genre that is now worth around £12.5m in the UK alone, encompassing ballet, opera, sport and theatre events.

The National Theatre's live broadcasts, first introduced in 2009, are now shown in more than 700 cinemas in 22 countries around the world.

Analysts predict the growing popularity of event cinema is set to continue, anticipating two million Britons will watch live events every year by 2015.

"It is an expensive genre," says David Hancock, head of film and cinema at IHS Screen Digest.

"But the Met Opera's last season took $60m (£39m). That was definitely making money. It's early days for the arts side of things but I can see it being a success."

Alternative content at Picturehouse Cinemas represented 12% of ticket sales in 2012 - a figure they are hoping to increase.

"I never thought I'd live long enough to see someone pay £25 to go to the cinema and watch something," says Steve Weiner, chief executive officer of Cineworld and Picturehouse, the market leaders of cinema in the UK.

"But not only did they come, they came out in droves."

Cineworld has now established a separate department dedicated to commissioning event cinema which it will screen in more than 70 locations across the UK.

But even Weiner is not expecting art exhibitions on film to be an instant success.

"You can't expect it to be financially viable on the first try. If it does happen it's wonderful, but even the opera was not an overnight success, it took a while for people to hear the word of mouth," he says.

It may take time to catch on, but art critic and Warwick University lecturer Professor Jonathan Vickery thinks art exhibitions in cinema could become a new genre in its own right.

"I think these films can offer the kind of intimacy that you can no longer get in a gallery," he says.

"Our experience of galleries has radically changed. You are usually standing with a crowd of people. I can imagine this spawning a genre of its own that may even substitute going to an exhibition."

But at the Royal Academy of Arts, Soriano unsurprisingly disagrees.

"Nothing can beat standing in front of the original object itself," she says adamantly.

"The Royal Academy has been here for nearly 250 years and if we didn't embrace changes and fresh ways of looking at things, we wouldn't be here for the next 250 years."

Image caption The British Museum's curator Paul Roberts will introduce Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum live to cinema audiences across the country in June

The British Museum is also experimenting with film as it attempts a live broadcast of its latest exhibition, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, in June.

The event will see curator Paul Roberts and historians taking audiences along a Roman street and into a local house, in the first such major exhibition in London for almost 40 years.

"I didn't know whether cinemas would take it," says executive producer Tim Plyming. "It's a pilot - it may work, but it may not. If we get this right, you'll see lots of people doing this."

But Cineworld, which is broadcasting the event to 60 of its 80 cinemas across the UK, doesn't see this as a trial run.

"We like to take an educated risk, so if it's something we think is good and the public could embrace it, we want to give them that opportunity," Weiner says.

However visitors to the Manet exhibition at the Royal Academy are sceptical about the production.

"I go to the cinema to see a film, but I wouldn't go to see an art exhibition because I'd rather come to the gallery," Londoner Imelda Boyle told the BBC News website.

"I like to spend as much time as I want on each picture. I'd give it a go but I'm not sure I'd enjoy it," adds Paul Garwood.

Grabsky insists that his knowledge of producing art documentaries will win his audience over.

"I want to share the amazement I have when I'm face-to-face with a painting. I can hold a picture for 20 or 30 seconds, and you have no choice but to look at it."

Impassioned to bring art to the masses, the director is keen to support galleries while encouraging audiences to embrace new ways of consuming culture.

"You can't beat the experience of going to a football match, but that doesn't mean you can't gain anything from watching it on the TV after the game - in high definition and with expert analysis."

Whether the crowds will play ball and buy the tickets is yet to be seen, but an art exhibition is coming to a cinema near you soon.

Manet: Portraying Life will be shown at selected cinemas on 11 April. Pompeii Live from the British Museum will be in cinemas nationwide on 18 and 19 June.

More on this story

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites