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Art Futura

Sure, PBS can feel like the Ken Burns Show sometimes, especially right now, with The War plodding relentlessly onward night after night. But the network can also be forward-looking, as evidenced by Art:21–Art in the Twenty-First Century, the Emmy-nominated series produced solely by the nonprofit contemporary art organization Art21 for PBS, which examines art and artists working in America today.

As with other recent attempts to draw attention to compelling new art-making, the series self-consciously seeks to break down the walls of the gallery or museum, using television to offer viewers new access points to artists’ creative processes, without what the show’s creators call the “interpretive mediation” of the curator. Its goal, in short, is to expand the audience for contemporary art.

Over its three previous seasons, each spanning four episodes, Art:21 has taken a catholic approach to showcasing the modern art world (though there is a strong focus on mixed-media and installation art), highlighting old lions (Richard Serra) alongside noteworthy newcomers (Tim Hawkinson), mixing up sculptors (Kiki Smith) and street artists (Barry McGee) and sound artists (Golan Levin). The format helps—rather than dropping artists into tidy bins based on age or medium, Art:21 groups them together according to messily evocative creative themes. Season Four kicks off later this month with a look at “Romance,” which groups conceptual photographer and filmmaker Laurie Simmons, hallucinatory symbolist painter Lari Pittman, English-born sculptor and installation artist Judy Praff, and French filmmaker and installation artist Pierre Huyghe, whose experimental cinematic odyssey The Journey That Wasn’t was a highlight of the last Whitney Biennial. The rest of the season will look at “Protest,” “Ecology,” and “Paradox,” including such diverse artists as public conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, photographer of the American West Robert Adams, and monochromatic minimalist painter Robert Ryman.

The new season kicks off October 28th (alongside a new companion book published by Abrams), but Art21 has partnered with dozens of cultural institutions around the country (and the world) to host preview screenings and events, which are happening now.

This article has been corrected since publication.

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