Claire Danes to Host Prestige PBS Art Program

Kelly Taub/ART21
Claire Danes

The 'Homeland' actress joins the eighth season of 'Art 21,' premiering Sept. 16, which focuses on top artists from different cities, from L.A.'s Edgar Arceneaux to Chicago's Theaster Gates.

On season five of Showtime’s Homeland, Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison scoots around the world trying to escape her would-be assassin. On season eight of PBS’ Art 21, set to premiere Sept. 16, Danes is the seeker, introducing fine artists from around North America as the show’s host.

The actress is the first star host of Art 21, full name Art in the 21st Century. Over the years, notables such as John McEnroe, Steve Martin, John Waters, Margaret Cho, David Alan Grier, Isabella Rossellini, Sam Waterston and Grant Hill have introduced artists on the show, but Danes will provide a backbone that the program has never had before as its full-season host.

“Growing up in a family where art was a part of everyday life, my parents taught me to question the world around me,” Danes said in a statement released by the show’s publicists. “‚ÄčArtists today influence how we see the world, how we express ourselves, and how art can transform society.”

The upcoming season also features a new set of prominent directors, including Pamela Mason Wagner, who won an Emmy in 2001 for her work on PBS’ American Masters; Deborah Dickson, a three-time Academy Award nominee for her stirring documentaries; and MacArthur Foundation Fellow Stanley Nelson, who has won three Emmys, a Peabody and the Special Jury Prize at Sundance twice.

Art 21 has two Peabodys of its own, and has long been admired in the art community for its no-frills but in-depth look at the art-making process through the lens of some of the most celebrated artists of our time. Over 100 artists have been featured over the show’s eight-year run, including internationally recognized names Ai Weiwei, Marina Abramovic, Catherine Opie, Mark Bradford, Matthew Barney, Richard Serra and Kara Walker.

Also for the first time, the show will feature one location for each episode — Chicago, Mexico City, Vancouver and Los Angeles — and four artists from each location. “I had the pleasure of directing two hours for Art 21 this season — Los Angeles and Mexico: two great cities and eight fantastic artists,” Dickson told The Hollywood Reporter in an email. “Working with these eight artists was mind-stretching and inspiring. It has been a wonderful challenge to try to communicate the ideas and the beauty of their work.”

THR reached one of the artists Dickson directed in Los Angeles, Edgar Arceneaux, by phone. Dickson followed Arceneaux as he prepared for Until, Until, Until …, a play that won Arceneaux the Malcolm McLaren Award given by New York City’s performance art biennial, Performa. The play focuses on Broadway actor Ben Vereen’s shocking 1981 performance at President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. In tribute to early vaudeville performer Bert Williams, who was often forced to perform in blackface, Vereen did the same — before a broadcast audience of millions on ABC.

“I think my experience was a little different than most people, because I was writing my play Until Until Until … that we were putting on in New York, and the people that are typically behind the camera, like Deborah, and even their camera person, they became my friends and confidants, and I would float ideas past them as I was working on the piece,” said Arceneaux. “They were there to shoot, but at the same time, off-camera, I would bounce ideas off them and use them to alleviate my fears about making a play.”

Since Danes is the host of the show, Arceneaux didn’t really have any interaction with her, but he was excited to find out she would be introducing his artwork. “I don’t know what Claire’s relationship to the art community is, but I’ve been a fan since she was in Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio back in the day,” he said. And I thought she was great in Temple Grandin. She definitely is one of the great actresses out there.”

Not lost on Arceneaux is the importance of Art 21, which broadcasts art to a broad audience. “Art 21 is so prestigious, and the people they have on there are people from across the globe who are making important work, so to be included is an honor,” said Arceneaux, who currently is working on a piece for Current: L.A., the city’s new public art biennial, as well as a big solo show at the MIT List Visual Arts Center in Massachusetts, opening in October. “It’s been a real experience having them around.”

The featured artists will be Stan Douglas, Brian Jungen, Liz Magor and Jeff Wall from Vancouver; Natalia Almada, Minerva Cuevas, Damian Ortega and Pedro Reyes from Mexico City; Arceneaux, Liz Larner, Tala Madani and Diana Thater from Los Angeles; and Nick Cave, Theaster Gates, Barbara Kasten and Chris Ware from Chicago.“It was so much fun to work with the artists from Chicago in the episode I directed for Art 21,” said Nelson in an email to THR. “I learned so much about contemporary art and the creative process that I did not know.”

Photo by Kelly Taub. Courtesy of ART21.

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