After two years of planning and fund raising, production finally is scheduled to start this week on an ambitious, nine-hour public television series on the history of Western art.

“It’s the first time anyone’s been crazy enough to try to find the money and do an entire series like this for television,” said the series’ executive producer, Perry Miller Adato. “It’s very intimidating to tackle such a tremendous subject and, let’s face it, it’s not the hottest or most commercial subject.”

Adato said the series would trace the history of Western art “from ancient Greece to tomorrow--the latest that is happening in art, all over the world.”

Officials at WNET, which is producing the series in partnership with British television, said the projected $6.4-million series is “90% funded, making it prudent and practical enough to go forth.”


According to the station officials, major funding is being provided by the Annenberg/CPB Project, a fund established for producing public-television programs that can also be used as college-level telecourses; PBS’ program development fund; the British television partners, TV South and Channel Four; and French and Austrian television. An American corporate underwriter is still being sought.

The series, to be shot in the United States and seven or eight European countries, is targeted for the 1989 season.

While the completed series will serve as a college telecourse, Adato stressed the entertainment aspects rather than the academic value of the series.

“I’m not interested in education, per se, but there needn’t be a conflict between something that is entertaining and educational,” she said. “You can take any subject in the world and make it fascinating, if it’s done poetically, artistically and with relevance to peoples’ lives today.”


Adato received her fourth Directors Guild of America award (she was the first woman ever to receive a directing award from the guild) earlier this year for her documentary film portrait, “Eugene O’Neill--A Glory of Ghosts.” Two previous awards were for her documentary portraits of artists Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe, the latter seen as part of a 1978 public television series, “Women in Art.”

The concept of her latest project is to “place art in its social and historical context.” For example, she said that the work of the neoclassical sculptor Jacques Louis David would be seen in light of his activity on behalf of the French Revolution.

She also said that one great work of art would serve as “a model” for each period explored in the series, such as the Chartres Cathedral for the Gothic period.

Art historians who exude “passion and intensity” will be selected as on-camera guides through each period, she said. In addition, a well-known international personality is to be chosen as on-camera host for the entire series.