I walked through south Shoreditch, where the warehouses of Shoreditch meet the northern fringes of the City, where there is a battle between the new and the old, but where enough of the old survives in terms of low-built warehouses juxtaposed with new infill development to retain a sense and character of a neighbourhood:-
I don’t think I had ever been to St. Mary Abchurch, one of the best preserved Wren interiors, very atmospheric with its large dome, painted by a parishioner, William Snow, who was paid £178 in 1708:-
A very plain exterior, with carved heads, presumably by Christopher Kempster, the mason:-
The ‘olter pees’ is by Grinling Gibbons himself:-
There is other good woodwork by William Emmett:-
Altogether highly atmospheric:-
We started a tour of City Churches with St. Mary Woolnoth, Hawksmoor’s taut, abstract composition which was nearly demolished when they built the Northern Line – the City and South London Railway – directly underneath.
We saw the twin church towers from the east:-
Strong Corinthian columns define cubic authority of the interior space:-
Woodwork by John Meard:-
The memorial of John Newton, a slaver who was converted and became a prominent abolitionist:-
A very informative programme on the redevelopment of Coventry. I hadn’t realised the extent to which plans for its redevelopment were drawn up before the war, following the appointment of Donald Gibson as city architect and planning officer in 1938 when he was only 29, full of idealism and plans for a more democratic future, which were then made possible by Hitler. The programme captures some of the hopes and aspirations of post-war reconstruction, much admired internationally, but it sounds as if it is not being well looked after and cared for now.
It was the memorial service for Nicholas Goodison at St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields. He had chaired its art advisory committee which led to the selection of Shirazeh Houshiary to design the East Window. Oddly, I was on that committee, but missed the crucial meeting.
Sometimes, memorial services are a bit impersonal, but this felt deeply personal, as if he had chosen the music himself – perhaps he had ? – including César Franck, Messiaen, and a specially composed short voluntary for the baroque trumpet by Peter Maxwell Davies. He chaired the National Art-Collections Fund, the Burlington Magazine, the Crafts Council, the Furniture History Society and National Life Stories (I’ve probably left a few out). But he also liked salmon fishing and photography. It’s easy to forget that his professional career was as a stockbroker-turned-banker.
I went to a tea ceremony in Arnold Circus to celebrate the erection of a sign to mark a cherry tree which was planted two years ago to commemorate Leon Kossoff, whose father came from Ukraine and ran Kossoff’s Bakery on Calvert Avenue, nearly opposite Leila’s. Kossoff apparently came back several times towards the end of his life to see the neighbourhood where he had spent so much of his childhood, including attending Rochelle School on the other side of the Circus, and he made drawings of the Boundary Estate, alongside his great series of paintings of Christ Church, Spitalfields:-
I had a very enjoyable discussion with Richard William’s about his new book The Culture Factory. We ended with a brief – too brief – discussion of the future of the museum. I seem to always end up citing MONA as an example of what the future might be: much more exploratory, much less information-based; no clear route, so that visitors are compelled to map their own route; treated very democratically as a day trip, friendly to family groups in a way that traditional museums have not been; treating art as an experience, not at all educational; a ping-pong table when you arrive and a beer machine. But it’s a long way to go to check it out.
I reproduce two quotations from an interview with Bob Venturi in 1991 (it appears in ‘National Gallery — Sainsbury Wing. Robert Venturi, David Vaughan and Charles Jencks. An interview’ in Post-Modern Triumphs in London, London, 1991), which I think are germane to understanding the character of the wing as built. The first concerns the low ceiling in the entrance foyer:-
There are two determinants that effect the design of the [foyer]. It is very low from necessity, because of the need to link with the elevation of the piano nobile of the old building; also we refer to the traditional way of dealing with a high-Classical building at ground level. In many English country houses you come into the lower part, which is designed in the manner of the outside vocabulary of the building; and then climb to the major floor above. In Italy it was often where the carriage drove in. So we gave it that character, to some extent, with the big piers.
The second concerns the importance he attached to views out – the windows onto the monumental staircase:-
The client wanted something that paralleled the original setting the painters might have anticipated for their art. The sense of place was important. Also it is thrilling to see art in the real world, rather than in a museum: if you go to someone’s house and they have a great painting in their living room, there is something more wonderful about it than if you see it in a museum — it’s in the real world. At the same time you have to acknowledge the museum as an institution for accommodating high security and great crowds, so what we did was to place occasional windows in the galleries. A window indicates that you are part of the living world. Also you can look through it — and the magic you’ve been experiencing looking at great paintings becomes more magical after it is interrupted by the real world; it’s like intermissions between acts at the theatre.
And finally a comment he made on the nature of its relationship to Wilkins’s portico:-
The porch of the old building was for a few ‘élitists’, the 500 persons per day who went up the steps originally. Our building – not quite a sports stadium – still has to acknowledge that many more people come through the entrance than in 1830. No longer just gentlemen, but thousands of students on cheap air fares.
I spent the morning in the Sainsbury Wing in preparation for a talk with Richard J. Williams, author of The Cukture Factory: Architecture and the Contemporary Art Museum.
I particularly focussed on the three things which the Gallery’s buildings committee found most contentious: the lone Corinthian column on the façade:-
It’s hard now to see this as particularly controversial and is essential to Venturi’s and Scott Brown’s experimental game-playing with the vocabulary of Wilkins which upset those who wanted him to be a more orthodox, and less mannerist, classicist.
The second is the scale of the columns in the front entrance hall, the appearance of which has been hugely improved by the removal of a lot of ephemeral and peripheral clutter:-
The third was the idea of having a neo-Palladian window at the end of the main enfilade which apparently still exists within the stonework:-
The experience made me realise how much I still admire the quality and scale of the Sainsbury architecture, which has been greatly enhanced by the quality of its COVID rehang, including more small and less well-known works, and removing – to its great benefit – the over-familiarity and predictability of the previous hang.
I have been sent a copy of a letter which has been published in this week’s TLS. I completely agree with it. I sometimes got the sense that David Walsh was trying to irritate the hell out of people like me by designing his museum MONA so wilfully unconventionally. But like Ashleigh Wilson, the author of the letter, I enjoyed and admired its provocative unconventionality, which has obviously succeeded in attracting new audiences.
I don’t recommend doing what I did which was to go on a day trip from London, not least because there is a hotel on site and I would have liked to go back and explore more the next day.