Reframing the Museum (3)

The final session of the day was a keynote address by Sandra Jackson-Dumont, the Director and CEO of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which is currently being built in Exposition Park in Los Angeles, right next door to the Natural History Museum. It is a rather fascinating project because it treats art as a broad narrative, encompassing prints and photographs alongside paintings, blurring the boundaries of medium and high and low, so including George Bellows next to Andrew Wyeth next to Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks. The building is designed by a Chinese architect, Ma Yansong, who worked for Zaha Hadid before opening an office in Beijing:-

George Lucas Strikes Back: Inside the Fight to Build the Lucas Museum |  Vanity Fair

Very oddly, it is conceptually not totally dissimilar from the new LACMA in the way in which it deliberately eschews traditional architectural forms for curved walls and shapes and they are both one story up in order to create a plaza below:-

Zumthor is a "master of light and shadow" says Brad Pitt

Both are determined to break the mould of traditional museums in ways which are not dissimilar: abolishing the canon; opening themselves up to non-traditional art; treating the experience as more about browsing than study. They are both scheduled to open in the next few years. It will be interesting to compare the ways in which they are received by the museum and art history communities.


Reframing the Museum (2)

I have just attended a good session on the role of empathy in the museum, led by Tom Crow. Art historians have become wary, or hostile, to the discussion of the nature of aesthetic experience in museums, feeling that it is either indeterminate or elitist, too connected to connoisseurship. But it’s interesting to discover that psychologists and psychotherapists feel no such inhibition and are both working with museums and studying the therapeutic values of wonder, pleasure and visual delight, the nature of individual, visual response to works of art and the ways in which it contributes to private well-being and public health.


Reframing the Museum (1)

I attended the first day of a big, international conference organised by the Louvre Abu Dhabi entitled Reframing the Museum and held, of course, virtually, which has the advantage of no travel costs and of being able to view the proceedings comparatively dispassionately. I was expecting to get a better sense of how museums are going to change than in practice I did. There was an interesting session on new business models in which Frédéric Jousset proposed some: flexible pricing; exploiting the museum’s brand; licencing; jacking up the price of entry and encouraging a business class of entry; not treating visitors as uniform; and re-orienting the museum in order to privilege and give more space to the most popular exhibits. I was interested that Max Hollein in his response said that, of course, museum directors are not inclined to think about their visitors as customers, which sounded to me like a voice from a long distant past. I was left with an impression that, although at the beginning of the pandemic, everyone rushed to go virtual, now we approach its end, everyone can’t wait to be back in reality and that museums may end up being unexpectedly the same after all: symbols of the cosmopolis, as Anthony Appiah so elegantly argued.


Roman Road

Although I know our end of the Roman Road very well, I very seldom go down the part beyond Mile End Park. Today, I walked to the park which was looking autumnal:-

Then I discovered that the Roman Road, to my amazement, now has a pop-up patisserie, called Alibi Pantry, which has the most delicious takeaway cakes, and an Italian deli, called Symposium which sells East London beer, new to me, as well as a gigantic range of Italian wine: gentrification no doubt, but I am not complaining:-


What is an Art Museum ?

I have been asked about the difference between a museum and an art gallery, based on the possibility that museums have traditionally been accessible and democratic, modelled on the beliefs of Henry Cole and Prince Albert, whereas art galleries were more for the cognoscenti. As it happens, it was the first question I was asked at my first interview at the NPG. I can’t remember what I answered then, but would say now that museums belong to a nineteenth-century encyclopedic tradition of public instruction, based on a systematic layout, whereas galleries are for art, where there is much less emphasis on labelling, more on looking. Art museum is, I think, American usage and at the V&A I was discouraged from using the term, but this hasn’t stopped me from using it in the title of my book.


The Art Museum in Modern Times

Ever since the beginning of lockdown, or at least since March 31st. when the final text was due, I have been preoccupied by completing my book about art museums, a good preoccupation since it involved detailed picture research, which is now so easy thanks to Google Images, and also liaison with Harry Pearce at Pentagram, which was a pleasure seeing the initial layouts, the design being gradually being tightened, the choice of typeface (it’s Futura) and the amount of care and thought which went into the cover. Now, I have just seen the page of Thames & Hudson’s Spring catalogue and the whole process feels real again. It shows the cover – Frank Lloyd Wright with the model of the Guggenheim and James Turrell in the 21st Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa – and the layout of the pages devoted to MONA in Hobart, the West Bund Museum in Shanghai and the Louvre Abu Dhabi: enough to whet the appetite, I hope.


Tony Armstrong-Jones

Today’s post in Spitalfields Life of photographs of East London by Tony Armstrong-Jones suggest that he was a ‘jobbing’ photographer before he met Princess Margaret. On the contrary, I think they show what an interesting and creative photographer he was when he was living in Rotherhithe and riding on his motorbike round East London, exploring aspects of society which were not at all routine for someone making his living as a society photographer.


Hazel Press

We have just taken delivery of the first four volumes of writing and poetry, published by a new small press based in the depths of rural Cambridgeshire or, as the colophon suggests, Bedfordshire, a product of lockdown, designed by Dale Tomlinson and printed in Beccles – a very nice piece of small press design and book production.,change%2C%20feminism%20and%20the%20arts.


Newlands House

Newlands House, a gallery in Petworth, is doing a programme of high-profile exhibitions, including one at the moment on Ron Arad. I am doing a talk with Ron and Antony Gormley on Wednesday 18th. November:-


US Election (2)

I find it fascinating how quickly the mood of the world order can change. A week ago we were still necessarily in thrall to an elderly, lying, dishonest, golfing President, worried by the possibility that he might be re-elected. How instantaneously his allies in the press and the world have deserted him, leaving him to give an unattended speech in the car park of a suburban garden centre, while suddenly there is a sense of hope and possibility in the world. It’s legitimate to talk about the perils of climate change, about the benefits of international collaboration, the problems ahead in Ireland if we pursue a hard Brexit, the need to work together. I am enjoying watching Johnson re-invent himself as an internationalist instead of a Trump worshipper.