I chose a bad day to visit Gospel Oak on the orange line from Whitechapel. I wanted to see the two big blocks of social housing, Waxham and Ludham in the Lismore Circus Estate, designed by Frederick MacManus and Partners in the early 1970s when Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones were working for him and before they went to work for Derek Walker at Milton Keynes. Edward Jones describes them in his Guide to the Architecture of London as ‘particularly unfortunate’. I can see why. They are currently being restored.
We sat in the front row of the stalls at the BFI to see the new film Innocence of Memories, based on Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence, made by Grant Gee who previously made a film about W.G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn (and a film with Jon Savage). It’s a very beautiful meditation on the nature of memory, objects, desire and the ways in which they interact with the back streets of Istanbul, always filmed empty except for dogs, and the Hilton Hotel as it was in the 1950s. Kemal loves Fusun and collects all the paraphernalia of their affair including the shoe she was wearing when they met, a piece of dropped jewellery and the calendar of 4,213 cigarette butts touched by her lips. A good film about a museum. And about how to make a film of a book.
I went to a small exhibition held in the foyer of Bonham’s to show the plans for the redevelopment of Bond Street. These have been drawn up by Publica under the auspices of the New West End Company and look well judged – reducing the number of traffic lanes (at the moment, it’s a three-lane highway) broadening the pavements, renewing the paving stones and creating a town square at the junction of Burlington Gardens outside Ralph Lauren. I just hope the scheme can be extended to include the grid of streets laid out and developed by Lord Burlington in the 1720s, including Cork Street, Clifford Street and Savile Row.
We had a meeting yesterday of the trustees of the Royal Academy Trust in the empty space due to be occupied by our new lecture theatre. It was faintly surreal sitting in the cold uninhabited space wearing high visibility vests whilst discussing the finances:-
Meanwhile, the British Academy Room has been stripped to the bone. I felt the ghost of Sir Mortimer Wheeler, with his large moustaches, who used to smoke his pipe by the fire:-
I went tonight to the annual Art, society and medicine lecture held jointly by the Royal Society of Medicine and the RA. It was given this year by Tony Cragg who gave an extraordinarily and enjoyably robust defence of the specialness and autonomy of art: against commentators who do not understand art even when they write about it; against scientists; against architects even though his daughter is an architect; against designers; against anyone who is creating something for a particular purpose rather than through pure invention of form. It was refreshing hearing someone who had such a clearly stated and explicit view about art and its practice.
I have just done a short piece on Sky News about the Mystery of the Lost Caravaggio, a programme about the Caravaggio which was stolen from an oratory in Palermo – it’s assumed by the mafia – and then stored in a barn where it was eaten by pigs or rats. Now Factum Arte has been commissioned to create a replica using the latest three-dimensional digital technology. The question is whether or not this will effectively replace the original. The answer in this instance is surely no because however brilliantly its done, it’s based on a small number of old photographs and a great deal of guesswork based on close study and analysis of the painting technique of other, earlier works by Caravaggio. But I find the issue trickier with three-dimensional works which have been studied in situ with the latest digital technology, as has happened with the Tomb of Tutankhamun where the replica is expected to replace the original and the original, like the Caves of Lascaux, will be closed. Not to mention the Temples of Palmyra which have been destroyed forever and henceforth will only ever be experienced as replicas. Can the aura described by Walter Benjamin as belonging only to the original transfer to the replica ?
I have been watching Painting the Modern Garden be installed, not an easy process, with more garden benches than usual. The designer is Robert Carsen, the Canadian opera director, who has also done quite a number of exhibition designs, including L’Impressionisme et la Mode at the Musée d’Orsay and Bohèmes at the Grand Palais. This morning was the press view when Ann Dumas and Bill Robinson from the Cleveland Museum of Art, the two curators, walked us round and revealed the full glory of the exhibition: not just Monet himself, as passionate a horticulturalist as he was a painter, settling in Giverny, getting up at 4 in the morning to contemplate his lily pond, but also so many of the other artists of the era, including Sargent, Matisse and Klimt, all of them in different ways fascinated and passionate about the look of flowers and their cultivation.
Mention of Ardizzone in the Comments section yesterday reminded me of Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain which I was given for Christmas when I was, I guess, six. I assumed it was newly published, but it actually first came out in 1936. Born in Tonkin – now Haiphong – in Vietnam in 1900, he was brought up in Ipswich, worked as a clerk for the Eastern Telegraph Company, and attended evening classes at the Westminster School of Art before becoming a full-time artist in 1926. He served as a war artist, lived in Maida Vale and 5, Vine Cottages, Rodmersham Green in Kent, was elected an ARA in 1962 and an RA in 1970. We don’t seem to have a diploma work, just a large collection of his illustrated books.
Discussion of book design has made me check whether or not Ron Costley, the former designer at Faber and Faber, is still alive. Sadly, he’s not. He died in March last year. He it was who introduced me to the pleasures of book design and how images can and should be combined with page layout, paying close attention to the content of the text. In order to do the design of The Building of Castle Howard, we spent a day walking round the estate, so that he could get a feel for its history, which then informed the design of the text. I hadn’t realised also the extent to which he collaborated with Ian Hamilton Finlay on the typographic episodes of Little Sparta.
Some time last week, I was summoned to Midori House at the top end of Manchester Street (I nearly missed it as I was just sitting down to scrambled eggs in the new Ivy Café) to be lightly grilled by Robert Bound, their Culture Editor, about all aspects of the Royal Academy and its operation. Half an hour is a long time:-