My thoughts on museums and how I got interested in their architecture are now live on the Thames and Hudson website, together with some of the very beautiful images used in the book (actually, they look even better online than in the book):-
A touching and thoughtful review of my book has just appeared unexpectedly on my screen on the official day of its publication. I am particularly pleased that Daniel Baksi commends the choice of images, which gave me the utmost pleasure – picture of of architects, donors and museum directors, which are very easy to find online, if hell for my poor picture researcher to have had to negotiate; and the quality of the book’s typographically luscious design by Pentagram. As he rightly says, there are plenty of other people who can do the dirty work of deconstruction.
The medlar tree in the front garden is in leaf. Less than two weeks ago I took a photograph out of the dining room window:-
This is how it looks this morning:-
One of my greatest pleasures in the last few weeks was a long conversation with Romas Viesulas, based in Lisbon, both about my museum book, but more about the books which influenced me while writing it and a couple of books which were being written more or less in parallel.
I feel badly about recommending the book by Michael Govan because it is not easily obtainable, but very revealing of the ideas of the group influenced by Tom Krens at Williams College who have done so much to change the priorities of the museum – from an encyclopedia to a poem, as Govan describes it.
The first review is always a bit nerve-wracking because you never quite know how people will respond and react to things which one has laboured over and then seem obvious when they are in print. So, I was very reassured by my first proper review in Studio International, which is very detailed and very fair. I know that it is all a bit compressed and should really have been six books, but, as she rightly points out, it was a way of providing an overall survey of changes in museums without getting too bogged down in the detail.
This is a very good survey of how the art world has fared round the world. It is hard to escape the feeling that we have done badly, both in terms of very high numbers of deaths and massacring culture, however well we may have done in developing a vaccine (by the way, I remember being told that we would develop a vaccine within a year in January 2020, so it is not all due to the brilliance of Rishi Sunak).
What will be really odd is the period between April 12th. and May 17th. when Fortnum’s and Hatchard’s are open, but the Royal Academy remains closed and the National Gallery and British Museum too. I suppose it is not long to wait, but indicative of the government’s ranking of culture below beauty parlours.
I went into the west end today – the first time for three or four months. I felt unexpectedly apprehensive, not looking forward at all to the resumption of minimal human contact, sitting at a distance from people in the tube, all masked up, and walking the streets with almost no-one there. So many familiar shops now closed. Bond Street: empty. Piccadilly: empty. The gates of the Royal Academy firmly shut. I found it incredibly melancholy, walking the streets where I lived and worked, but with no possibility of meeting anyone from a former life. It’s hard to imagine it starting up again.
I keep meaning to buy a copy of the March issue of Elle Decoration, but now I have no need to, because the article about the best of the recent art museums has appeared online (The world’s best modern art museums (elledecoration.co.uk), together with predictions of what comes next:-
There are plenty of new museums planned for the next few years, including Jamie Fobert’s new-look National Portrait Gallery and the LACMA expansion by Peter Zumthor in Los Angeles, both set for 2023. Galleries of the future are likely to be lighter weight, more ecological and even more contemporary – let’s hope they demonstrate the same swagger and confidence as their predecessors.
If you manage to watch My Rembrandt, which I highly recommend, you may, as we were, be slightly baffled by exactly what Jan Six, the hero of the film, did wrong. It is half explained in the attached long article in the New York Times, but only half.
One of the benefits of listening to Waldy and Bendy this morning was that it led us to watch the film My Rembrandt this evening, an astonishing exposition of the nature of the art world and the extremities of the passions paintings, particularly Rembrandts, arouse. It both begins and ends with the most beautiful photography of Drumlanrig, where Richard Buccleuch decides to re-hang his Old Woman Reading. The heart of the narrative is about Jan Six deciding to buy a putative Rembrandt at auction and getting it attributed by Ernst van der Wetering, while, meanwhile, Éric de Rothschild decides to sell the two Rembrandts he and his brother jointly owned to the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre jointly. It tells one a great deal about the operation of the art world: the complexities of attribution when so many millions are at stake; the fact that there are still surprises in the sale room; the politics involved in a joint acquisition by the French and the Dutch. The director, Oeke Hoogendijk, has filmed it all with extraordinary access and great sensitivity. Available on Amazon if not in the cinema.