So, they all seem to have closed yesterday, one-by-one, our major cultural institutions, each one conveying a slightly different message, according to their character. Tate went first with a message which put the welfare of its staff, visitors and community first (they seem to have added the community after the first press releae) and said that it will open again on May 1st. Is that likely ? Hartwig Fischer sent a personal message, saying that it would only be temporary. ‘We have taken this decision with a heavy heart’. Then, I got an email from the Royal Academy ‘The RA is closing for a while’ – admirably unspecific. Then the Design Museum: ‘We will be continuing to develop ideas and plan for the future’, which manages to convey a positive note in a mood of otherwise unmitigated gloom. So, the doors are shut, as they were not during the war. Our cultural life goes online.
I was sent a copy yesterday of the photograph taken of four directors of the National Portrait Gallery, taken at the annual Portrait Dinner last week (it seems like another era). It’s quite a funny foursome, referring back to Cecil Beaton’s 1967 photograph (NPG x12533) of Roy Strong, when he was still the young, scholarly Director, appointed to the post when he was only 31:-
© Noah Goodrich
Given the immense amount of medical information which is now freely available to everyone online, there is one thing which currently baffles me. Since this information has been well known to epidemiologists and the medical profession for nearly six months, and so presumably to the government’s advisors (I was given a very clear analysis of the likely spread of the disease in January), why is it only now that the government is asking manufacturers to supply the necessary respiratory equipment which is in such disastrously short supply and the shortage of which may lead to numberless deaths ? And is it beyond the realm of possibility for this equipment to be designed in such a way that it could be administered at home, thereby stopping the hospitals being overwhelmed ? Or have they perhaps deliberately delayed either in order to save money, a legitimate concern, or, as Richard Sennett has suggested, because of Dominic Cummings’s interest in the economic benefits of eugenics ?
At least the garden looks good in the morning sun, the green shoots of spring offsetting the general gloom;-
My first day in the bunker of isolationism has enabled me to read one of the best recent books on museums (my knowledge of the recent literature is generally weak) titled Anti-Museum, a description of the now long-standing movement of hostility to the conventional narratives of fine art museums, originating in the search for alternative art spaces in New York in the early 1970s. It is by Adrian Franklin, a British social anthropologist based in Hobart, who has also written an extremely informative description of the origins of MONA, and, unlike most books of museology published by Routledge, is both readable and affordable.
Well, it’s odd how quickly events change the public mood. A week ago, we were starting to take steps to avoid infection. Today, the postman left the Amazon delivery by the gate in order to avoid having to speak. I have today cancelled all our social arrangements, all meetings, and we are not going to the opera this afternoon. No visits to the British Library, no travel by tube. A bit drastic perhaps and possibly too late, as the realisation dawns of widespread infection and the risks that it entails. So, my blog entries, which have anyway reduced in number, may reduce further as we hunker down for a long period of self isolation, with only books and wine as company.
We went on a special expedition today to try the new restaurant at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, which I assumed was named after its proprietor, but I now realise that it’s in honour of the Gallery’s architect, Charles Harrison Townsend. The food was absolutely delicious: bacon scones with chicken liver parfait and crispy sage, followed by Townsend fish soup and a mouthful only of Chocolate tart with rum soaked raisins and Jersey cream. I really hope it does well as it’s such a rotten moment to open a new restaurant, and others at the Whitechapel, including Angela Hartnett and 10, Greek Street, have come and gone. Certainly the food could scarcely be better, including salad leaves and kale from Stepney Green farm.
I failed to post photographs of Farringdon on Monday when the sun was out, which one appreciates at the moment when the world is in such a state of stygian gloom:-
I have been gently chastised by Marina Vaizey for not saying more about the Cecil Beaton exhibition, which does indeed represent the Gallery’s long association with him as a photographer, beginning with Roy Strong making friends with him in the mid-1960s and showing his work in a landmark exhibition at the NPG in 1968, which, as she says, was the first serious exhibition of photography in this country. She thinks there were leaves on the floor, but I see no leaves in the surviving installation shot, which instead shows photographs mounted very densely on screens and Beaton’s large straw hat hanging on the wall. The exhibition was wildly successful, was apparently filled with incense, and was said to have had 250,000 visitors, although it’s hard to imagine how or where they were crammed in.
I forgot to put this in my blog last night because I was busy eating dinner.
Following my posts last year about Nick Coker, the real-life model of the hero (or anti-hero) of the film The Souvenir, I was sent a photograph of a long forgotten event which took place on the lawns of King’s College, Cambridge in the summer of 1975, when Coker arranged what I remember as being a Festival of 1,000 Flutes, but in retrospect I realise could not have been that many (it was apparently 100, not 1000). I didn’t feel able to post the photograph without the permission of Matthew Creighton who took it and I have only just received his permission.
I am posting it for two reasons. The first is as a recollection of a different era, when Cambridge was not as manicured as it has since become. The second is that it shows Coker in his undergraduate phase, standing at the top of the bank wearing a white suit and wearing – I think very uncharacteristically – a boater, when he was still an infinitely glamorous figure, much more so than he is depicted in the film:-