Perhaps the most intriguing moment of the season premiere of WGBH's "Art Close Up" comes at the beginning. An old lady with messy gray hair and glasses is working out in a gym, grimacing as she lifts weights. It's renowned dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp, sans makeup and, apparently, sans vanity.
That little bit of shock is just what the producers at WGBH intend -- to help audiences gain insight into creative endeavors in new ways. "Art Close Up" is the newly renamed "Greater Boston Arts," which has been running for seven years. This season will include a variety of formats: magazine-style episodes that focus on upcoming arts events, segments on experimental work, one independent film on art, and even material from the show's archives.
There's a lot of music, plenty of graphics, and a pleasantly zippy but not frenetic pace. (This is public television, remember, not MTV.) And the talking-head curators who put the artists' work into a larger perspective are cogent and sometimes actually funny.
The first half of tonight's show looks at three artists at various stages of their careers; all of them will be presenting their work publicly in the next month. Series producer Stephanie Stewart sought to match the style of the filmmaker with that of the subject, and she allowed each one to create in his/her own style. So each segment has a different feel.
In 10 minutes, you get a swift look at Tharp's life in dance, from her days performing with Mikhail Baryshnikov to footage of her latest show, the Broadway production "Movin' Out," which is coming to town in March. Then a segment on sculptor Pat Keck shows how a little girl scared of many things transforms that fear when she grows up by making zombie-like wooden puppets with white faces, staring eyes, and body parts that move when directed. The third film focuses on conceptual artist Danica Phelps, who uses art as a dialogue about money. She talks about how she makes a drawing, then resells versions of it over and over, adding little green lines indicating how much it sold for and who bought it.
The show's second half-hour looks at photographers who toy with our notions of reality. Arno Rafael Minkkinen puts his long, lean, naked body into an Andover lake and into the woods and (using a long cable to trip the shutter) makes photos that look physically impossible: as if he's walking on water, or his arm is growing out of a hollow tree limb. Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison create elaborately staged photographs that trick the eye -- like one of Robert in a shabby Chaplinesque suit atop a ladder that appears to be emerging from a cloud bank. Art pranksters Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick create photographs that look like footage of actual events, as when they stage a wild battle on a beach using contemporary materials (plastic dinosaur, Hershey's syrup) to evoke an unidentified earlier time.
The name change came about because "Greater Boston Arts" was getting confused with "Greater Boston," a daily public-affairs program on WGBH. And because PBS was starting to use segments of the show in between national offerings such as "Masterpiece Theatre," Stewart says, she wanted a name that would more accurately describe its mission.
"What we're trying to do," Stewart says, "is translate for a general audience the language used by contemporary artists so we can make it clear what they're doing. In doing so, we want to answer the question of what is the value of art or creativity in society."
("Art Close Up"; On WGBH, Ch. 2; Tonight, 8-9 p.m.)
Globe on NECN
Here's what's happening on "Around the Globe" today on NECN:
12:30 p.m.: "Globe at Home"
4 p.m.: "Around the Globe" 6:30 p.m.: "New England Business Day"
8 p.m.: "NewsNight" Schedule is subject to change.
Talk of the dial
4 p.m. WBIX-AM (1060) -- "Market Wrap" with Mark Mills. Guests: Ken Tower, CyberTrader; Maria Cirino, Guardent.
5 p.m. WBNW-AM (1120) -- "PM Magazine" with Lindsy Parker. Guests: John Fund, OpinionJournal.com; Dr. Rosalene Glickman; Gail Goodman, CEO, Roving Software.
Midnight WHRB-FM (95.3) -- "The Carl Perkins Orgy."
9 a.m. WCRB-FM (102.5) -- Mozart's Violin/Piano Concerto in D; Rodrigo's Concerto de Aranjuez; Saint-George's Violin Concerto in G.
1 p.m. WHRB-FM (95.3) -- "The Yevgeny Mravinsky Orgy."
6 p.m. WUMB-FM (91.9) -- "Live Interview" with Dave Palmater. Guest: Mark Erelli.