I agreed to appear on Newsnight to discuss the statue of Mrs. Thatcher which was planned for Parliament Square, turned down by Westminster City Council, and is now going to Grantham. It seemed to have been entirely forgotten that there was another big statue of her which was commissioned by Tony Banks, when he was chair of the House of Commons Works of Art Committee. The plan was that it should go into the Members’ Lobby next to Winston Churchill, but the rules prohibited it. So, it was lent to the Guildhall Museum. A theatre producer took a cricket bat into the museum in his trousers – not an easy thing to do – and smashed her head off. So, it is not just recently that statues of her have aroused strong feelings.
I didn’t need to say anything further about Dinah Casson’s book, Closed on Mondays, because it turns out that my review of it is already available online (From picture frames to cloakrooms: what makes a successful museum | The Art Newspaper).
I had just been looking in the wrong place.
I actually went to a meeting in a different place today, still on Zoom, but I hadn’t realised how exciting it would be: the freedom of the street; the prospect of a vaccine; window shopping.
I don’t have much to show for my outing, except some unexpectedly nice pieces of urban lettering in darkest Shoreditch:-
Since it was so sunny yesterday, I went to have a look at Worland Gardens, a recent, much praised housing development by Peter Barber who specialises in well-considered housing, which makes use of North African, as well as vernacular developments, attentive to the balance between privacy and community. Like much architecture, it looks better in the magazines, but is still an interesting response to a neglected building type:-
I am very sad to hear of the death of Irina Antonova, one of the more remarkable museum directors that I half knew, although she was not easily knowable, not just because she spoke little English. There is a fascinating interview with her in Donatien Grau’s recent book of interviews with museum directors. You get little sense of her personality, except when she wanted to show work from the defunct Museum of New Western Art in 1974, and the press criticised the fact that she had cleared space by removing some of the collection of historic plaster casts. She is quoted as saying, ‘It was a battle against imbeciles’: that is the voice of Irina Antonova – the voice of a fierce, independent minded, highly educated, Russian pro-modernist, who had learned to conceal her views of the many political regimes she had had to live under.
I have just done a Zoom talk with Dinah Casson and Frances Spalding about Dinah’s lovely, short, interesting book, Closed on Mondays, a meditation on themes and variations connected to her career as a museum designer; and now, of course, I’ve remembered all the things I meant to ask her.
Her book starts with windows and it is striking how the museums which people like the most – Louisiana, the Gulbenkian in Lisbon, the Guggenheim in Venice, Hepworth Wakefield, all have views out, so feel part of the world instead of just being a laboratory for art. Then, I wish she had done more about museum cloakrooms. The National Gallery in London used to have a cloakroom in its front entrance, but Dixon.Jones put it downstairs, based on the model of the National Gallery in Washington – services in the basement, art upstairs. Her book makes me want to see what she did at Lascaux. I don’t think anyone minds reproductions when they are forbidden to see the original and the mood may change now we can’t so easily travel the world, which was, of course, why the Victorians liked casts.
It should have been two hours, instead of one, and then we could have heard from all those fellow museum designers in the audience