Alastair Sooke

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Alastair Sooke
Born1981 (age 37–38)
Alma materChrist Church, Oxford
Courtauld Institute of Art (MA)
OccupationJournalist, broadcaster
AwardsQueen's Scholar

Alastair Sooke (/sk/; born 1981) is an English art critic and broadcaster, most notable for reporting and commenting on art for the British media and writing and presenting documentaries on art and art history for BBC television and radio. His BBC documentaries include Modern Masters for BBC One and two three-part series, the Treasures of Ancient Rome and the Treasures of Ancient Greece, for BBC Four.[1]

Alastair is a deputy art critic at The Daily Telegraph, writing on art and art history, including on the Turner Prize and contemporary art. He is also a regular reporter on The Culture Show.[2]


Sooke was born in west London[3] in October 1981[4] and educated at Westminster School,[5] an independent boarding school in Central London, where he was a Queen's Scholar,[6] followed by a Westminster Scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford,[5] where he read English language and literature and won the university’s Charles Oldham Shakespeare Prize.[citation needed] After graduating with a First, he studied for an M.A. at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, specialising in ancient Greek and Roman art.[citation needed]

Sooke is known as a writer and presenter of documentaries on art and art history for BBC television and radio.[7] His BBC documentaries include Modern Masters (for BBC One), exploring four artists who shaped modern art; the tripartite series Treasures of Ancient Rome in 2012 and Treasures of Ancient Greece, for BBC Four, in 2015, and How the Devil Got His Horns, a history of depictions of the Devil in Western art (also for BBC Four).[citation needed]

Sooke also serves as an art critic, and writes periodical-length pieces on art theory, history and criticism, as well as penning investigative pieces that have appeared in journals, and newspapers. These include The Telegraph, where he is a deputy art critic after joining the paper as a trainee journalist in 2003.[8] Sooke is also regular reporter on The Culture Show.[2] In addition, Sooke has written books, on both Henri Matisse and Roy Lichtenstein.

Sooke's work for the Daily Telegraph has included regular reporting and commentary on contemporary art, writing that has garnered attention beyond England. Sooke has reported and commented periodically on the Turner Prize for contemporary art. For instance, responding to the release of the names of those shortlisted for the Turner in 2010, Sooke wrote, "The great triumph of the Turner Prize was that, during the 1990s, it won a large audience for contemporary art in this country. But, now that this battle has been won, it faces a tricky problem: how can it sustain widespread interest when it no longer feels appropriate to describe the work that is shortlisted each year as 'shocking' or 'controversial'?"[9][10] Speaking on that same occasion, Sooke commented:

[In the past] many British artists made brash, splashy and provocative work that knowingly incited the media, and made for great television. Newspapers and broadcasters loved reporting their provocations, and artists loved dreaming up ever more outrageous antics to provide fodder for newspapers and broadcasters. It was a potent symbiosis. More recently, however, things have quietened down: last year's winner, for instance, was Richard Wright, who makes gentle, exquisite wall paintings that are a world away from the headline-grabbing work of the YBAs Young British Artists who, championed by Charles Saatchi, dominated the 1990s. It's as if collectively our attitude to contemporary art has mellowed and matured.[10]

In his writing for the Daily Telegraph, Sooke has also reported periodically on the career of Tracey Emin,[10][11] since she was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999 for her piece, My Bed, where she "notoriously showed her unmade bed, surrounded by squalid mementoes of life on the edge, including empty vodka bottles, pill packets and used condoms."[12] (My Bed did not receive the Turner that year, but sold at auction for £2.2 million (US$3.1M) in 2014, after which it appeared on loan to the Tate Gallery.[11]) Sooke categorized Emin's work between 2008 and 2014 as being "explicitly confessional,"[11] and in the "tradition of outsider art,"[12] and describes her as "one of only a handful of British artists who can also claim genuine celebrity,"[11] but at least some of her work as being "insufficiently stimulating," visually.[12]

Reporting on Emin's widely covered five-week exhibition of gouache nudes, bronze sculptures, and textile and neon pieces in October–November 2014 (at the White Cube gallery in Bermondsey, South London),[13][14] Sooke broke the story that Emin, artist and professor of drawing at the Royal Academy since 2011, had composed the nudes during "life-drawing classes [that] she has been attending in New York," and that the "sculptures are the results of lessons in how to cast bronze over the past three years."[11]

Sooke is married and lives in London.[citation needed]


Year Work Channel
2010 Modern Masters[1] BBC One
2011 Romancing the Stone: The Golden Ages of British Sculpture[2] BBC Four
2011 The Perfect Suit BBC Four
2011 The Summer Exhibition: BBC Arts at the Royal Academy BBC Two
2011 The World's Most Expensive Paintings[1] BBC One
2012 How the Devil Got His Horns: A Diabolical Tale BBC Four
2012 Unfinished BBC Two
2012 The Summer Exhibition: BBC Arts at the Royal Academy BBC Two
2012 Treasures of Ancient Rome[1] BBC Four
2013 Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball[1] BBC Two
2013 The Summer Exhibition: BBC Arts at the Royal Academy BBC Two
2013 Whaam! Roy Lichtenstein at Tate Modern BBC Four
2014 Constable: A Country Rebel BBC Four
2014 Pop Go the Women: The Other Story of Pop Art BBC Two
2014 The Summer Exhibition: BBC Arts at the Royal Academy BBC Two
2014 The World’s Most Expensive Stolen Paintings[1] BBC Two
2014 Treasures of Ancient Egypt[1] BBC Four
2015 Soup Cans and Superstars: How Pop Art Changed the World BBC Four
2015 Treasures of Ancient Greece[1] BBC Four
2016 Lichtenstein: A Retrospective BBC Two
2016 Robert Rauschenberg: Pop Art Pioneer
2017 An Art Lovers' Guide BBC Two
2017 Trump on Culture: Brave New World BBC Two
2018 An Art Lover's Guide BBC Two


  • Postcards from Vegas (2011) ISBN 9780955819513
  • Roy Lichtenstein: How Modern Art was Saved by Donald Duck (2013) ISBN 9780241965061
  • Henri Matisse: A Second Life (2014) ISBN 9780241969090
  • Pop Art: A Colourful History (2015) ISBN 9780241973073


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Treasures of Ancient Greece". BBC Four. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  2. ^ a b c "The Culture Show - Alastair Sooke". BBC Two. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  3. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  4. ^ "The Ampersand Foundation ... People". Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Oxford University Gazette, 26 October 2000: Colleges". Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  6. ^ "In Conversation: Stephen Chambers RA and Alastair Sooke .... About Alastair Sooke". What's On, University of Cambridge, Cambridge. 17 April 2011. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  7. ^ "lBBC: Modern Masters, About Alastair Sooke". Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  8. ^ "Alastair Sooke". Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  9. ^ Sooke, Alastair (2010). "Turner Prize Shortlist 2010" (online). The Telegraph (4 May 2010). Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  10. ^ a b c Bowman, James (2010). "Shockless: When Outrage Becomes Predictable It Ceases to Be Outrageous" (print, online). The American Spectator (July–August). Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  11. ^ a b c d e Sooke, Alastair (2014). "Emin Goes Back to School [Review: Tracey Emin, 'The Last Great Adventure Is You']" (online). The Telegraph (6 October 2014). Retrieved 18 February 2016. Alastair Sooke reviews Emin's new exhibition, but finds the woman more personable than the work.
  12. ^ a b c Sooke, Alastair (2008). "Tracey Emin—Dirty Sheets and All" (online). The Telegraph (5 August 2008). Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  13. ^ Jones, Jonathan (2014). "Tracey Emin: The Last Great Adventure is You' Review—A Lesson in How to Be a Real Artist (5/5 Stars)" (online). The Guardian (7 October 2014). Retrieved 16 January 2016. The body screams in Emin’s latest show, which moves from crumbling, fleshy paint to tortured bronzes, and shakes the tradition of the female nude to the core. She is now clearly the most important British artist of her generation.
  14. ^ Wark, Kirsty (2014). "Tracey Emin's Last Great Adventure: Herself" (online). BBC (7 October 2014). Retrieved 16 January 2016.

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