I am very pleased to be a judge for the new pavilion which the ever-inventive Garden Museum is planning on Lambeth Green, part of a scheme for remodelling the spaces outside the museum:-
A couple of months ago, I had a long, meditative Sunday morning conversation on Zoom with Johnny de Falbe, author and director of John Sandoe’s bookshop, in which he quizzes me gently, but probing about the nature, character and responsibilities of a wide range of museums, particularly private museums, including Louisiana, the de Menil in Houston and the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao. Towards the end, the conversation broadened out to the vexed question of the sources of private donors’ wealth, the ethics of accepting donations, and the equally vexed question of government influence on trustee appointments, following the resignation of Charles Dunstone as chairman of the National Maritime Museum. I take the long view. It has always happened to an extent, if not quite so obviously and determinedly as under Oliver Dowden. The conversation, which is long and ruminative, has now appeared as a podcast. See below.
I went to her exhibition at Karsten Schubert in Lexington Street of work done during lockdown, starting with Echoing Green, the title taken from a poem by William Blake. I’m sorry the photographs are so yellow, maybe because the late afternoon sun lit up the space:-
This Is Plenty (2020):-
Buds (2020), particularly beautiful, so delicate, so precisely observed:-
From Above (2020):-
Coming back to London, I am struck once again by the enormity, the monstrosity, of 22, Bishopsgate, which now completely dominates the London skyline, but in a way which is sinister rather than attractive, because it has been designed ruthlessly without character – anonymous, deadly, featureless, overwhelmingly anonymous, like a thug embracing one with a clasp from behind.
The view down the Mile End Road used to be dominated by the Gherkin – funny and a bit silly, like discarded lipstick. But now we have 22, Bishopsgate: namelessly hideous and so expressive of the capture of London by the forces of darkness, through developers lining the pocket of our ex-Mayor, now Prime Minister:-
Back in London, we went to Bach & Sons at the Bridge Theatre, our first trip to a theatre for eighteen months: lots of the double vaccinated, all conscientiously masked, and a small number of younger people very conspicuous for being unmasked: not sure what to make of this. Not sure what to make of the play either. I enjoyed it because it was about Bach and was convincing in depicting the conflict between, on the one hand, his grumpiness, cantankerous personality and the total chaos of his private life and, on the other hand, the accidental sublimity of his highly conservative music, forgotten after his death and only rediscovered a century later. Maybe good as biography, and didn’t quite work as theatre, apart from the performance of Samuel Blenkin as CPE.
A footnote to my post on Richard Williams’s book on Reyner Banham, Reyner Banham Revisited. It made me realise how important Banham had been to the establishment of design history by extending his gaze far beyond buildings to the analysis of car design, food, social issues in design, and the broader urban environment; and that he was doing this in his journalism already in the 1960s. In retrospect, it’s obvious because he supervised Penny Sparke’s PhD and she edited a volume of his essays, Design by Choice in 1981; he helped Tim Benton with his Open University Course on The History of Architecture and Design 1890-1939; and he must have taught Adrian Forty, who took on his role at the Bartlett. But I’m not sure I realised it at the time.
A pleasure of being on holiday is the opportunity to catch up on some recent books. One is Richard J. Williams’s excellent and lively account of what he describes as ‘The Multiple Banhams’ – how Reyner Banham reinvented himself from the aeronautical engineer to the scholarly pupil of Nikolaus Pevsner, then unshackled himself as an advocate for Brutalism and prolific journalist in New Society. I read his book on Los Angeles when it came out and still admire it as a combination of analysis of urban form with touristic enthusiasm. He died just after he had been appointed a Professor at the Institute of Fine Arts, taking over from Henry-Russell Hitchcock. They were not unlike one another in their eclecticism and their in situ analysis of building types.
We walked down to the Straits today. It was incredibly hot – hot and still:-
Having watched the Dominic Cummings interview (or grilling) by Laura Kuenssberg last night, I have found the commentary on it this morning curiously disappointing. Of course, it is easy, and no doubt tempting, to dismiss him as a swivel-eyed lunatic, now consumed by his own self-deluding arrogance and narcissism. But this is someone who worked as the right-hand man and fixer for Michael Gove over a long period of time, was, by all accounts, the intellectual architect and manager of Brexit, and was hired and given extraordinary powers by Boris Johnson when he became Prime Minister. So, it is surely worth treating his analysis seriously, not least because he is interested in political ideas, and, unusually for a political activist, was successful in implementing what he wanted to happen. And it seemed to me that it is worth giving his own analysis of events some credence: that the British political system is so soft and torpid that it is open to a form of entryism by a small group of ideologically motivated fanatics with their own agenda and in which it proved possible for them to manipulate and co-opt an intellectually slovenly, but personally ambitious proto-Prime Minister for their own purposes. Hence Brexit. I don’t really see anything to dispute in this analysis.
Menai Bridge – the town – is nicer than ever, now that Beaumaris is overrun by tourists. It has the best garage:-
Definitely the best hardware store. And Hawthorn Yard is now full of flowers:-