After a second day of excavation at the large and accusatory pile of books on the floor of my office at home, I have realised why it is that they are there. It is not just that I long ago ran out of shelf space to accommodate them, but there are a surprising number of books which fit no obvious category – or are too large to fit the category to which they belong. So, they just sit there, until I can bring myself to put them into a large box for the annual Courtauld Institute book sale, if such still exists.
Today, I was pleased to locate:-
1. The catalogue to the collection of Alan Bowness, which was the first exhibition in the Heong Gallery, the beautifully converted bicycle sheds at Downing College, Cambridge, and which includes a notably warm appreciation of Bowness’s character and achievements by Duncan Robinson, as well as an account by Bowness himself of the formation of his taste. One comment in particular intrigued me when Bowness writes that he was particularly friendly with Ron Kitaj, who ‘was very well read and had a political background – anarchist (as popularised by Herbert Read) – not unlike me’.
2. A magazine called Res, which appears to be published in Istanbul. I don’t know how or why I acquired it, maybe at the Serpentine, as I was pleased to discover that it has a long interview by Hans-Ulrich Obrist with Michael Baxandall. Since Baxandall died in August 2008 and the magazine is dated May 2008, it must have been one of Baxandall’s last recorded statements of his attitude to, amongst other things, working in museums (for a short time in the early 1960s, he was a curator at the V&A), his understanding of the meaning of a period eye and its relation to anthropology, and his views of art history (‘I would like to do art criticism which is more generally historical than Roger Fry but at the same time is more perceptive about aesthetic matters. So it’s a matter of drawing Roger Fry and a museum cataloguer together’). One can feel Baxandall intellectually fencing, as he always did, forever anxious not to be pigeon-holed, determined to distinguish his practice of what he described as art criticism from ‘the pressures of the new art history’. There’s a picture of him looking like an Old Testament prophet, thin and bearded. As it happens, both Bowness and Baxandall were at Downing College in the 1950s, but not, I think, at the same time, drawn, I assume, by the milieu (and intellectual puritanism) of F.R. Leavis.