Zaha Hadid RA

St. Paul’s Cathedral was packed for the Memorial Service for Zaha Hadid, an impressively international occasion, with a reading in Arabic, a Gospel Choir and a particularly memorable address by Peter Palumbo, remembering her upbringing in the shifting sands of the Iraqi desert, her time as an undergraduate reading maths at the American University of Beirut and at the AA under Alvin Boyarsky, where she was influenced not just by Malevich, but by Arp and Lino Bo Bardi.   Odd to think that under current plans someone like her might not be given a visa to study in London, let alone stay here to work.

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The City

It’s rare for me to be anywhere near the City at the weekend, but, since I was, I thought I would explore its northern section round Guildhall, which is much less familiar to me.

I started with St. Anne and St. Agnes, what’s left of a small Wren church designed in 1680, maybe with help from Robert Hooke, designed on the model of Greek Cross and damaged by bombing in December 1940:-

An odd capital on a café next door:-

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Romilly Saumarez Smith

I finally made it to Romilly’s exhibition at Goldsmith’s Hall, including much ornate jewellery and a new line in small boxes:-

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Horace Walpole

I left out of my bulletin of last week that I was asked to speak after dinner at Strawberry Hill.   I gave as my title ‘Horace Walpole and the Royal Academy’, knowing that he had annotated his catalogues of the early Academy exhibitions with peppery comments, which survive in the Lewis Walpole library in Farmington.   The only problem was that these are nearly the only bits of Walpole miscellanea which have not yet been published and that he otherwise had very little contact with the early Academy, sitting to Reynolds in 1756, but not making friends with him, complaining about the queues and high prices at Academy exhibitions, detesting the work of Benjamin West, refusing to be introduced to Samuel Johnson at one of the Academy dinners, and preferring the company of old widows and his Gothic library out at Twickenham.   So, it was a short speech.

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Old War Office

I was walking through Whitehall last week – it must have been early evening Monday – when I passed the old War Office building, one of those bits of grand late Victorian swagger which it’s easy to ignore.   But as the evening sun caught its upper stories, I for once admired its baroque magnificence, designed, as so often in these years, by a Scot, William Young, the son of a Paisley bootmaker and trained at the South Kensington School of Design.   He was given the commission for the War Office as consolation for not winning the competition to design the South Kensington Museum, produced the design in 1898, and died two years later, leaving his son Clyde to complete the project.   The sculpture was the work of Alfred Drury, who did the statue of Reynolds in the Burlington House courtyard:-

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South Creake

I was asked to give a lecture last night in South Creake church, a surprisingly large rural church in a village south of Burnham Market.   I had decided to talk about the twin phenomena of the post-war period:  the gradual loss of religious faith and documented decline in church-going (now less than 2% of the population go to church);  and the corresponding rise of museum-going (in May alone, 3.6 million people went to one of the national museums).   So, the question is whether or not these two phenomena are in some way connected and that, as a consequence of radical secularisation, people are, to some extent at least, seeking meaning in art.   As often happens on such occasions, there was good, and rightly sceptical, discussion afterwards.

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Maria Bjørnson

I have just been alerted to the fact that the entry that I was asked to write about Maria Bjørnson, the great opera designer, responsible for Phantom of the Opera and much else, has just been posted online on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography website (you need a library membership to access it).   I found it an odd and moving experience writing about someone who was a near contemporary, born in 1949, but died far too early of an epileptic fit in her bath aged 53.   Reading it again, there is rather too much about her parentage (her great grandfather had won the Nobel Prize for Literature) and nothing whatever about what I remember best about her, including early morning exercise classes in a basement in Covent Garden and a bus trip across the Appenines to Faenza.   But these are the conventions of official biography.

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Frieze Masters

Each year for the last few years I have been asked to give a tour of Frieze Masters to the RA patrons.   This is not totally straightforward as an Art Fair is, by definition, a grand potpourri of works of art – in Frieze Master’s case, of all styles and periods, the ancient to the contemporary.   In the past, it has involved a breathless sprint round all the stalls in a desperate search for objects to point out.   This year I was better prepared.

These are the things I liked:-

A Soldier on Sam Fogg’s stand, said to be from Persepolis in southern Iran:-

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Edmund de Waal

I wasn’t going to do a post from Frieze London having exhausted my blogging tendencies in going through Frieze Masters, but was struck by the recent work by Edmund de Waal which has an exhibition to itself at Gagosian.   Since I’m lecturing about him (and others) on Friday in north Norfolk, I was pleased to see the whiteness and extreme mimimalism return, as well as the austerity of the spacing (they are actually all white and it’s only the camera which makes them yellow):-

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Bruce Nauman Hon RA

I went to see the Bruce Nauman exhibition at Blain Southern called Natural Light, Blue Light Room, an early installation first shown in 1971 at the Ace Gallery in Vancouver.   It would have been pretty radical at the time – a piece of pure, disconcerting light installation – and remains radical now.   Best to see it in daylight and empty.

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