The best documentaries on modern and contemporary art in streaming

A selection of some of the best documentaries available on different streaming platforms in Italy, available for free or on-demand on RaiPlay or Netflix. The series on the best museums in the world, the film about the work that has obsessed Rodin for most of his career, the influence of impressionism on fashion, the realism of Courbet, the life of one of the greatest American performing artists of the last fifty years, the rediscovery of a misunderstood Hungarian-American sculptor with a dark past.

Burden (Netflix)

Chris Burden was a controversial performative artist to say the least, as well testified by this valuable Netflix documentary: in his performance named “The Shoot” one of his assistants shot him in the arm, in “Trans-fixed” he was crucified on a Volkswagen Beetle. But his signature is also on the “Urban light” urban planning concept, a splendid work which has now become one of the unofficial symbols of Los Angeles: 202 historic lampposts from the 1920s and 1930s taken from various locations in Southern California and positioned in the square in front of the entrance to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
A documentary that – thanks to the use of a lot of archive material – pays tribute to an original artist which is little known outside the United States.

Link to Netflix

Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski (Netflix)

A group of art collectors (including George Di Caprio, Leonardo’s father) rediscovered, a few years after his death, the works of Stanislav Szukalski, Polish sculptor transplanted to the United States. The documentary is mostly made up of interviews given by Szukalski himself, and focuses almost entirely on one question: can the artist be separated from the art? Because if this sculptor who had known fame in his youth has been forgotten or shelved by historians and critics for several decades, it is no coincidence: many of his works have in fact evident traits of racism and anti-semitism.

Link to Netflix


When Impressionism invented fashion (RaiPlay)

What is the relationship between the Impressionists and fashion? In this docu-film, based on the homonymous exhibition of some years ago at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the curators of the exhibition – together with historians and stylists – revealed how some masterpieces of impressionism were instrumental in promoting modernity, modernism and fashion.

Link to RaiPlay (in Italian)


The largest museums in the world: Madrid and Castile; Vienna (RaiPlay)

This Rai5 program is made by four pieces, in which the first and fourth episode explore some of the most beautiful contemporary art museums in Europe. In episode 1 on Madrid and Castile, we can see the works of Mirò, Tapiès, Picasso (including Guernica), Picabia, Bacon, Magritte and Juan Gris from the Reina Sofia Museum. In the fourth episode dedicated to the Austrian capital we see the Klimt frieze dedicated to Beethoven in the Secession Palace and numerous paintings by the greatest artists from between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – including Schiele, Munch, Klimt with his famous “Kiss ”, and much more – in Belvedere Castle.

Link to RaiPlay (in Italian)

Rodin – Divino inferno (RaiPlay)

Auguste Rodin was one of the most important figures of sculpture in the last two centuries and this documentary by Bruno Aveillan focuses on his “The Gates of Hell”: a sculpture that wanted to be as impressive as its inspiration: Dante’s Comedy.
This film recounts the slow labor that accompanied Rodin until the end of his life: the work was in fact commissioned to him in 1880 but on the date of his death – in 1917 – he was unable to finish it and deliver it.

Link to RaiPlay (in Italian)


Courbet – The origin of his world (RaiPlay)

French 2007 documentary on Gustave Courbet, father of realism, whose works hovering between Romanticism and Impressionism have served as a reference model for other great French masters of modern art such as Manet, Monet and Degas.

Link to RaiPlay (in Italian)

Cover image:
“La Porte de l’Enfer du musée Rodin à Pari, détail du Penseur et des Ombres”

Target Point, Italian Ideas