Born in London in 1955, Collings missed secondary education, receiving therapy instead at the Finchden Manor Community, a haven for disturbed teenage boys established by G.A.Lyward, in the Cinque Port town of Tenterden, in the Ashford District of Kent in South East England, whose former residents included James Robertson Justice, Robert John Godfrey, Tom Robinson and Alexis Korner. Collings then studied at Byam Shaw School of Art, and Goldsmith's College, both in London.
Life and career
Collings has a regular monthly column in the art magazine ArtReview ("Great Critics and Their Ideas"), in which he "interviews" historical figures whose influence on art has been decisive. In one of these Søren Kierkegaard says of today's art enthusiasts, "What they're not baffled about, because to them they are as natural as breathing, are the morally indefensible moves that have to be made all the time in order to keep something as trivial as the artworld going."
In one of his books on art, Collings states that in his early teenage years he hung around in a house in Oakley Street, Chelsea, whose residents included members of various rock bands including Mighty Baby and Family, and that he ran away to Canada and for many weeks was the object of an internationally coordinated police search.
He began his career working at Artscribe beginning in the production department in 1979 and later took over as editor, filling that role from 1983-7, bringing international relevance to the magazine. In 1987 he received a Turner Prize commendation for his work on Artscribe. Collings later moved into television working as a producer and presenter on the BBC The Late Show from 1989-95. In the early 1990s he brought Martin Kippenberger into the BBC studios to create an installation, and he interviewed Georg Herold while this Cologne-based conceptual artist painted a large canvas with beluga caviar. He gave Jeff Koons his first sympathetic TV exposure, and Damien Hirst was introduced for the first time to the UK TV audience by Collings.
He wrote and presented documentary films for the BBC on individual artists, such as Donald Judd, Georgia O'Keeffe and Willem de Kooning, as well as broader historical subjects such as Hitler's "Degenerate art" exhibition, art looted in the Second World War by Germany and Russia, Situationism, Spain's post-Franco art world and the rise of the Cologne art scene.
After leaving the BBC, Collings wrote 'Blimey! From Bohemia to Britpop: The London Artworld from Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst,' which humorously chronicled the rise of the Young British Art (YBA) movement. Published in 1997 by 21, a new company founded by David Bowie, among a group of others, 'Blimey!'was described by Artforum magazine as “…one of the best-selling contemporary-art books ever." (Kate Bush on the YBA Sensation, Artforum, 2004) The article went on to say that Collings "invented the perfect voice to complement YBA: He makes an impact without (crucially) ever appearing to try too hard. "
The following year, Collings wrote and presented the Channel 4 TV series This is Modern Art, which won him a Bafta (1998) among other awards. He was originally identified as a proponent of Britart, however more recently his sympathies have become ambiguous or even hostile to it. He wrote in the New Statesman:
"A new popular audience is obsessed by contemporary art. But I think they are being sold something that isn't really there: an all-in package of spirituality, depth and profundity. I am afraid the official institutions of contemporary art are just lying about this stuff."
Collings wrote and presented a Channel 4 series in 2003 about the "painterly" stream of Old Master painting, called Matt's Old Masters. A book by the same title accompanied the series. Further Channel 4 series by Collings included Impressionism: Revenge of the Nice (2004) and The Me Generations: Self Portraits, (2005).
Between 1997 and 2005 Collings presented the Channel 4 TV programme on the Turner Prize. He has described himself as "an apologist for contemporary art", although in the same interview he confessed that this is more a popular assumption about him than his own idea.
In 2007 he wrote and presented the Channel 4 TV series "This is Civilisation". In 2009 he appeared on the BBC2 programme "School of Saatchi" a reality TV show for newly trained UK artists.
In October 2010, he wrote and presented a BBC2 series called Renaissance Revolution, in which he discussed three Renaissance paintings: Raphael's Madonna del Prato; Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights; and Piero della Francesca's The Baptism of Christ. In 2014 he wrote and presented a 90-minute documentary for BBC4 on abstract art: "The Rules of Abstraction" considered early modernist beginnings by Klee, Kandinsky, Hilma Af Klint, and others, as well as contemporary continuities, ranging from Fiona Rae to El Anatsui. In the same year Collings appeared in Frederick Wiseman's documentary, "National Gallery" composing and rehearsing a piece-to-camera on Turner's The Fighting Temeraire, for the documentary "Turner's Thames," 2012, which Collings wrote and presented for BBC4.
With Emma Biggs
In October 2007, with his wife, Emma Biggs, Collings curated and wrote a catalogue essay for an exhibition of Picasso's late works at the HN Gallery in London. The paintings were from the 1960s series of Painter and Model and Déjeuner sur l’herbe reworkings. According to the catalogue essay the exhibition aimed to draw attention to Picasso's achievement as a manipulator of form rather than the popular myth of Picasso as a showman or lover or sensationalist genius.
Together Biggs and Collings create paintings based on intricate patterns. They have exhibited their work primarily in London but also abroad.
- Blimey! - From Bohemia to Britpop: London Art World from Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst, 21 Publishing, 1997
- It Hurts - New York Art from Warhol to Now, 21 Publishing, 2000
- This is Modern Art, Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Watson-Guptill Publications, 2000
- Art Crazy Nation, 21 Publishing, 2001
- Sarah Lucas, Tate Publishing, 2002
- Matt's Old Masters: Titian, Rubens, Velázquez, Hogarth, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003
- Criticism (with Matthew Arnatt), Rachmaninoff's, 2004
- Ron Arad interviewed by Matthew Collings, Phaidon, 2004
- This is Civilisation, 21 Publishing, 2008
Video and television
- Omnibus: Willem de Kooning (BBC TV documentary) Narrator 1995
- This Is Modern Art (Channel 4 TV series documentary) 1998
- Hello Culture - (Channel 4 TV series documentary) 2001
- 2003 Matt's Old Masters (Channel 4 TV series documentary) Hogarth, Velázquez, Rubens, Titian
- Impressionism: Revenge of the Nice (Channel 4 TV series documentary) 2004
- Self Portraits (Channel 4 TV series documentary) 2005
- This Is Civilisation (BBC TV series documentary) 2007
- What is Beauty? (BBC TV documentary) 2009
- Renaissance Revolution: Raphael, Piero, Bosch (BBC TV series documentary) 2010
- Beautiful Equations (BBC4 TV one-hour documentary) 2010
- The Rules of Abstraction with Matthew Collings (BBC4 TV documentary) 2014
- Williamson, Caroline (2 August 2012). "Emma Biggs & Matthew Collings". design-milk.com. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
- Robinson, Tom (1 September 2005). "Saving lives with a second chance". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 May 2012.
- Collings, Matthew (1997). Blimey! - From Bohemia to Britpop: London Art World from Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst. London: 21 Publishing. ISBN 978-1-901785-00-5.
- Collings, Matthew. "The bottom line". New Statesman, 24 November 2003.
- Marshall, Richard. "An Interview With Matthew Collings". 3 AM Magazine, 2002. Retrieved on 9 May 2008.
- This is Civilisation
- Presenter & Writer: Matthew Collings (2010-10). "Renaissance Revolution". BBC. BBC Two. Check date values in:
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- "Biggs & Collings: What our work is about". emmabiggsandmatthewcollings.net. 10 March 2013. Retrieved 28 October 2013.