Every year since I have arrived at the RA, we have planned to re-do the shop. But every year it has fallen victim to budget cuts. Now, we have finally done it in a deliberately lightweight and experimental way, looking as much like a gallery as a shop, which is, of course, what the space once was. It has been designed by Debby Kuypers of RFK Architects, who has designed exhibitions, including Americans in Paris, as well as working in retail, so has provided an environment which deliberately crosses the frontiers between a shop and a gallery. I hope it encourages more people to enjoy what the shop offers:-
Last night, I had my first tour round our Oceania exhibition with the two curators, Nicholas Thomas and Peter Brunt, beginning with the map of the Pacific Islands, so widely distributed west of Papua New Guinea and including New Caledonia, Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands and the Pitcairn Islands.
The first room on Voyaging includes a Tangonge discovered in 1920:-
In Room VII, Gods and Ancestors, there is a fine female figure from the Admiralty Islands:-
And a piece from Samoa:-
In Room 5, the theme is Performance and Ceremony, including more masks, as well as clubs and shields:-
Later on in the exhibition, one sees the interaction with European culture, including works which were acquired by anthropologists and deposited in European collections, like those acquired by J.C. Erde:-
The exhibition ends with a mask from New Caledonia, borrowed from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropolgy in Cambridge:-
Attending a funeral mass in the Minster at King’s Lynn gave me a chance to wander the streets after the sweetmeats.
The wonderful late seventeenth-century Customs House, designed by Henry Bell a local gentleman architect:-
The way the town sits on the River Ouse, still with a half working quay:-
And details of some of the houses in the side streets:-
I got up early in order to join the ceremonial procession of the various representatives from the islands whose artefacts are being shown in the RA’s great exhibition on Oceania. They assembled in Green Park and then processed down Piccadilly, past the Wolseley, and into the courtyard of the Royal Academy, where the majority went into the exhibition to bless the artefacts:-
I’ve just received through the post a copy of a new book called Drawing and Seeing: Create Your Own Sketchbook. It’s been produced by Clara Drummond who, after working as an assistant to Jonathan Yeo, did an MA at what was then the Prince’s Drawing School (now Royal). In 2016, she won the BP Portrait Award with a portrait of Kirsty Buchanan, a fellow artist. The book is a primer, encouraging anyone and everyone to experiment with the practice of drawing, introduced by Peter Blake, who was Professor of Drawing at the RA and gave every student the basic kit of sketchbook, pencil, sharpener and rubber, not a great expense. I like the way that the book is enlivened with quotes from artists – Emil Nolde ‘Everywhere I looked, nature was alive, in the sky in the clouds, atop every stone, and between the branches of the trees – everywhere lived and stirred my wild and lively creatures, clamouring to be put in my sketchbook’ and Lucian Freud ‘I’m never inhibited by working from life. On the contrary, I feel more free’. I wish I had been given a copy of the book when I was six, to encourage the discipline, which she and many others advocate, of drawing every day.
Since discovering this morning that a former President of the RIBA ruled that a nomination for Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown for the Gold Medal was out of court, to such an extent that he offered to take his clothes off if the suggestion was pursued further, I have tried to figure out why such a likeable, thoughtful, knowledgeable, influential and all round good egg should have stirred up such deep and long-standing animosity in the British architectural profession.
Part of the answer must lie in the house which he designed for his mother in Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia in the early 1960s which, contrary to all the orthodoxies of the time, was playful, clever (possibly too clever) and based on a free, intellectually informed attitude towards the language of classicism. It was implicitly rude to the high priests of modernism by being jocular which the high priests of modernism and their followers have absolutely hated, both then and ever since.
Next, there is Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, published in 1966. This, which is a scholarly examination of the benefits of mannerism in architecture – visual depth, historical reference, the importance of Hawksmoor – has been one of the most influential architectural monographs of all time, but I suppose is correspondingly reviled for encouraging students to think that architecture is an intellectual language, not just a case of problem-solving modernism.
Worse was to come. Learning from Las Vegas was written jointly with, and quite obviously inspired by, Denise Scott Brown’s passionate interest in the problems posed to the architectural profession by the deep popularity of Las Vegas (although they had known one another previously, and taught courses together at the University of Pennsylvania, they fell in love in Las Vegas). The idea that popular taste might be worth studying was, and maybe still is in some circles, taboo.
Worst of all, and most unforgiveable, was that they were offered the job of designing an extension to the National Gallery after not one, but two competitions, involving all the biggest players of the British architectural scene. But this was hardly their fault. They were recommended by Ada Louise Huxtable who was on the jury and Bob won over the Trustees by his knowledge of Roman architecture, his interest in Soane, and his belief that an art gallery should not just be an architectural statement, but about the display of art.
You can see where I stand on this issue. I think Venturi and Scott Brown – slightly differently – were and are incredibly important architects, who already do, and forever will, belong to the Pantheon.