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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 17:54 GMT
Interactive art launches BBC Four
Hiroshige's A Heavy Shower on Ohashi Bridge
Hiroshige's print will feature in the exhibition
The BBC is launching its latest digital channel, BBC Four, with television's first interactive art exhibition, focused on the weather.

Works by Constable, Degas and El Greco will be beamed into viewers' homes via their TVs and broadcast on the web in an initiative curated by the National Gallery with the involvement of 50 other institutions.

Painting the Weather draws together 120 works by 80 artists which are housed in a variety of collections around the UK.

The centrepiece of the project is the web exhibition, featuring in-depth commentaries on 15 key works by National Gallery director Neil MacGregor.

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BBC Four controller Roly Keating said the unique exhibition constituted "the most radical thing, in terms of the technology" of digital television.

The 120 paintings could never come together in one gallery in the real world, he said, "but in the digital world, they can".

"It's an experiment, but one we're proud to do."

His comments came as he unveiled BBC Four's schedule ahead of the channel's launch, on 2 March.

BBC Four's first evening will be broadcast simultaneously on BBC Two.

Keating described the channel as a "classic, mixed-genre public service channel with a twist".

The twist, he said, is that it puts arts and culture at the centre of the schedule.

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But the BBC's new digital services have been criticised for using licence fee-payers' money to duplicate services already provided by the commercial sector.

The chief executive officer of the commercially funded digital arts channel Artsworld, John Hambley, said: "We believe these things should be done on the universal service.

"We did suggest to the government that it would be much better for the BBC to concentrate on BBC One and BBC Two."

The amounts of public money involved were "excessive," he said

But the BBC insists the new services offer something new and distinctive.

In Painting the Weather, a series of documentaries will examine the collection in the television exhibition, looking at the art in terms of different weather types.

Featured works include Turner's The Snowstorm, Monet's Haystacks and Howard Hodgkin's The Storm.

Viewers watching on digital satellite can access videos of about 30 of the works while digital cable viewers can look at 40 of the paintings.

On digital terrestrial there will be a picture of the day beamed into homes.

BBC Four launches with a documentary entitled The Man Who Destroyed Everything, about the performance artist Michael Landy.

Last year, shoppers in London's Oxford Street watched as Landy and a team of assistants reduced all his possessions to dust in a shop window in an exhibition entitled Breakdown.

Another highlight of the first night is an arts drama-documentary entitled Surrealissimo, starring Ewan Bremner, Stephen Fry and Katrin Cartlidge.

Over the weeks to come, BBC Four will broadcast for the first time Ian Curteis's The Falklands Play, which was abandoned by the BBC in the mid-80s.

There will also be a series on the Brit Art movement featuring many of the scene's biggest names.

And art critic Robert Hughes - author of the influential book The Shock of the New - will be examining the Spanish artist Goya in his first documentary on the visual arts for five years.

See also:

14 Feb 02 | TV and Radio
Picture gallery: BBC Four
20 Nov 01 | TV and Radio
BBC children's channels unveiled
20 Nov 01 | TV and Radio
40m for BBC children's channels
09 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Man 'destroys' life for art
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