At the opening of our Klimt Schiele exhibition, I was reminded of the fact that – long ago – I took a course on the Connoisseurship of Old Master Drawings with Professor Konrad Oberhuber, who, at the time, was an Austrian exile in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but who, later in his career, was persuaded to return to Vienna to be Director of the Albertina. He was an eccentric, but charismatic figure, who was incredibly confident of his gifts of attribution, based on years of study as a young man in the drawings cabinets of European museums. The only problem was that he had inherited a pre-war belief that it was possible to identify drawings not simply by draughtsman, but by geographical region. This may be fine in differentiating Tuscan drawings from Umbrian, but is more problematic in distinguishing drawings made in Utrecht from those of Haarlem. He regarded all English drawings as absurd, deserving only of laughter. This geographical determinism became more dogmatic as he got older, and less convincing. But he had a brilliant ability to describe the qualities and characteristics of Old Master drawings and he taught me a lot from the front of his Volkswagen Beetle visiting Massachusetts private collections.
We were tipped off that Imogen Cooper was playing in King’s Place last night. Indeed, she was: an ambitious programme of late works – late Haydn, still playful, late Beethoven, the Sonata Op. 110, ending with the ‘Arioso dolente’, and late Schubert, composed just after Beethoven’s death (I had not known that Schubert attended Beethoven’s coffin to its grave); in between the Haydn and the Beethoven, she played a short, attenuated piece by Thomas Adès based on a song by Dowland. Powerful stuff.
At the Whitechapel History Fest, I met Ron McCormick who was selling copies of the small photographic books he has produced with Café Royal Books, based on photographs he took while he was a postgraduate student at the Royal Academy Schools (Peter Greenham was Keeper and allowed him to make a darkroom) and living in Princelet Street: very atmospheric pictures of Jewish merchants and traders in Cheshire Street, Old Montague Street and Artillery Lane, pre-gentrification when the streets were still darkly atmospheric. You can see them online.
I got back from the States in time to hear Dan Cruickshank give a bravura final talk in the Whitechapel History Fest, organised by the Survey of London upstairs in the Whitechapel Idea Store.
He described his peregrinations round east London in the late 1960s taking fine black-and-white documentary photographs of buildings which no longer exist, including Wellclose Square, just south of Wilton’s Music Hall, the Circus, Square and Crescent, designed by George Dance the Younger, just north of the Tower in the late 1760s (this is not one of Dan’s photographs), and the London Dock:-
Then, in 1976, he, Colin Amery and others squatted 5 and 7, Elder Street to prevent it being demolished by British Land and established the Spitalfields Trust, which has done nearly as many projects in Whitechapel as in Spitalfields, including (which I didn’t know about) the Durward Street Board School just north of Whitechapel Station.
He ended with a peroration on the risks of damaging new building development, including a startlingly gigantic new building proposed on the corner of Commercial Street and Whitechapel High Street which will dwarf the Whitechapel Art Gallery.
I ended my time in New York by going to TEFAF, an extension of the art fair held annually in Maastricht. The Armory, designed for the New York militia, is an impressive place for it:-
I always like the way Axel Vervoordt displays objects, using the shabby grandeur of the surroundings:-
This is what I would have bought if I had the money:-
Two alabaster Bactrian bowls at Rupert Wace:-
In preparation for our own exhibition which opens next week marking the centenary of the death of Gustav Kimt and Egon Schiele (Klimt was 55, Schiele only 28), I thought I should go to see one of many rival exhibitions at the Neue Galeries, Ronald Lauder’s beautiful Secessionist gallery on 86th. Street. The Klimt drawings are not just mildly erotic, but spectacularly so in a sensual way, Schiele’s drawing style much more adventurous, vivid, tense, neurotic and sometimes rude. They are astonishing, as, I hope, our exhibition will be.
I was pleased to have a chance to see the Armenia exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, having long been both intrigued and perplexed by the existence of an early Christian nation at the foot of Mount Ararat, culturally rich traders at the crossroads of the eastern trade routes.
A sixth century capital from Dvin:-
Carved doors from Mush:-
They established Cilicia on the Mediterranean in 1198 under King Levon. This is stone carving from Hromkla:-
In 1604, Armenian merchants were forced by Shah Abbas to move to Isfahan, where they continued to dominate the silk routes.
So, what happened ? They were wiped out by the Turks in the early part of the twentieth century, nor is there mention that there is still a state of Armenia and what relation it has to historic Armenian culture.
In memory of Bob Venturi, I went to visit the Fire Station he (and Denise ? only Venturi and Rauch are credited) designed in a not very salubrious part of New Haven (I had forgotten that you only have to move one block away from the University and you are in a much less good neighbourhood). They had won the competition for a new Mathematics Building in 1969 to the consternation of the architectural establishment – ‘won from among 468 contestants by the iconoclast who had shocked the country as the apostle of the “ugly and ordinary”‘. I would have photographed the Fire Station, but a big truck drove up in front of it at the critical moment, so I am borrowing someone else’s image of it.