At lunchtime, we had a lecture in which I learned much that I didn’t know about Monet: that he tricked the authorities into allowing him to construct a large lily pond by pretending that it was going to be a swimming pool; and that he had a state funeral in which Clemenceau whipped the black awning off his coffin outside the Madeleine on the grounds that black was an inappropriate colour for him. Then tonight I went to what may be a last visit to Painting the Modern Garden. The party included at least two ardent and knowledgeable horticulturalists, so the discussion was not so much about the quality of the art as the particular species of rose depicted, the extent of the influence of Gertrude Jekyll, and the glories of Emil Nolde’s garden in Seebüll, in Schleswig-Holstein just south of the German border. I found it curiously refreshing – and in the spirit of the exhibition – to look at Monet not for his handling of paint, but how accurately he painted lilies.
I had to deliver some dry cleaning early in the morning and was impressed by how lively Whitechapel is first thing in the morning when the street market is being set up and a new wave caff called Mouse Tail is serving sandwiches, lattes and freshly squeezed orange juice to local commuters:-
In wandering round Whitechapel this morning, I found a rather fine bit of old social housing where Chicksand Street meets Casson Street (formerly George Street) in amongst the rather bleak stuff from the 80s and possibly later (it’s at the heart of what Tower Hamlets calls Bangla Town). I think it must be what Pevsner describes as ‘a survival from the dense urban pattern of c.1900: close-set tenement building, 1901 by H. Chatfield Clarke, given some architectural pretension by terracotta trim’. This is the trim:-
Next door to St. Anne’s, Limehouse, I discovered a charming small set of circular benches dedicated to the memory of Doc Widgery, who I discover died as long ago as 1992. He was a big figure in Limehouse when we moved there in the early 1980s, as a GP at the local Gill Street Health Centre and ex revolutionary socialist (not very ex). He published a book about his medical practice called Some Lives: a GP’s East End in 1991, not long before he died of some form of overdose. I never met him, but he clearly belonged to the era of passionately committed and socially oriented GPs who came into medicine as much to change society as prescribe paracetamol. The formative moment of his youth was having sex with Allen Ginsberg:-
I went this morning to have a look at St. Anne, Limehouse. I occasionally do, to restore my faith in humanity and architecture. I discovered they now keep the gates to the churchyard locked except for church services. Of course, I understand why. When we lived next door, there were always a few murders on Saturday nights. But as I used to walk through the churchyard every morning of my life en route to the Docklands Light Railway, I felt a slight frisson of sadness and am posting pictures of what the church looks like from outside the gates:-
We spent the afternoon at an event at the Art Workers’ Guild called ‘Thinking with Your Hands’ which is about the way traditional craft skills and working with one’s hands remain as relevant to aspects of science as the arts. I hadn’t known that Nicky Morgan as Secretary of State for Education has been quoted as saying that ‘arts education will hold you back for the rest of your life’, which, if true, is grotesque. So, the point of the afternoon was to suggest ways in which hand skills are not just a recreation, but an essential resource, not least in surgery (maybe the Secretary of State hasn’t thought of this). There were a series of tables with two or three people, each of whom was working in an area which involves a relationship between science and craft practice.
First, thread management, with a needleworker alongside a theatre nurse:-
I have only just got round to studying the annual charts of visitor numbers which are inserted into the April issue of the Art Newspaper. The National Palace Museum in Taipei takes the top eight places. Chanel at the Saatchi Gallery came twelfth in the world, way above the wonderful Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A. I initially thought that Ai Weiwei came top amongst UK exhibitions, but then spotted that it had been beaten by six exhibitions at the Saatchi Gallery, including Skate Girls of Kabul. I’m also pleased to see the Summer Exhibition up there in the top fifty in the world with 230,483 visitors. William Kentridge did well in Beijing, but so, I thought, did Sean Scully at the Himalyas Museum in Shanghai. Maybe they don’t supply the statistics. The National Portrait Gallery got over 2 million visitors, nearly double Tate Britain. Nearly 200,000 people went to see Grayson Perry in Margate. Some people think museum directors are obsessed with visitor numbers. I am.
I went to the opening of Liane Lang’s exhibition at the James Freeman Gallery in Upper Street, but had got the time wrong, so had the space to myself. I’ve always liked and admired her work. She was a student at the RA Schools before I started there, but plays games with the classical cast collection which are intriguing, if occasionally deliberately sinister. I originally wanted to buy her work based on the Laocoön, all writhing limbs with modern ones, including hands and feet, interpersed. But I ended up buying a later work based on a cast of The Faun in the collection in, I think, Mannheim, which again intermingles a classical sculpture with the contemporary in a way which is intriguing, if faintly bizarre. It’s in the gallery window in Upper Street and looks better there than in our bedroom.
Having been unable to attend the memorial service for Zaha Hadid yesterday, I went to pay my respects at the Serpentine Pavilion today, which gave me a chance to admire her lightweight built structure – a pavilion – and to honour her memory:-
I wasn’t, sadly, able to attend Zaha Hadid’s memorial event in the London Central Mosque today. One of the things I found fascinating in reading about her after her death was the story of her failed project to design the Cardiff Opera House. I hadn’t known that she won the competition not once, but three times, because it kept on being re-run to get a different result. I had forgotten that its funding was turned down by the Millennium Commission on the grounds that its design was ‘insufficiently distinctive’, a hilarious rationale given that this was the one thing it most certainly wasn’t. And I liked her comment after she won the competition that ‘The problem is that people in this country have seen so much garbage for so long they think life is a Tesco. When the highest aspiration is to make a supermarket, then you have a problem’.