I am sometimes inordinately grateful to Google. At the moment, my news feed intersperses bad news with occasional repostings of reviews of my museums book. Most I have seen before, but it is still (normally) a treat to read them at leisure. Today, they selected one I had nor seen ny someone who bought the book by mistake. All the greater was my pleasure to discover how much she had enjoyed it and how thoughtfully she summarises its themes and issues, including a quotation I had forgotten from Renzo Piano: ‘There’s no such thing as neutral space. Neutral architecture is pointless architecture, like soup that tastes like nothing, or a boring novel. But it’s equally clear that a museum should let the work of art take centre stage’.
Now that I have survived my second day COVID testing, and passed, I feel I should say, which I am sure lots of people have discovered, that it is a small nightmare. I had booked my test with Randox, because one of the unlucky consequences of Owen Paterson being paid £100,000 a year is that it sticks in the mind that Randox are providing the tests instead of the easy and straightforward NHS test provided by Tower Hamlets, which has no currency under the Johnson government because it does not involve shovelling vast sums of money into the private bank accounts of government ministers and their friends (they say Johnsonism isn’t a philosophy: I agree, it’s just a way of a small number of people getting rich quick).
Anyway, the Randox test requires one to download an app, which I managed surprisingly straightforwardly. Then, you have to enter your test kit number. Of course, there are lots of numbers – the order number, the number on the box. None of them work. So, I couldn’t register. Eventually, I figured out which number it is supposed to be. It’s the number without the prefix RANDX, which you have to enter for your Public Health Passenger Locator Form to work. I have a feeling that these forms are cleverly designed to drive people mad, as well as make politicians rich. I’m sure Mr. Paterson is rubbing his hands with glee at the amount of all this COVID activity, thanks to the meetings he had which most unfortunately were, unusually, not minuted and of which the emails, which have now been released, have been almost totally redacted.
It’s funny how this government has an infinity capacity to lose all documentation of any significance, and then redacts those which accidentally survive. I suppose this is what they meant by Sovereignty. The ability to do exactly what they wanted without reference to any rules or laws, getting fat and complacent like stoats.
I have been reading Matt Gibberd’s A Modern Way to Live: 5 Design Principles from the Modern House. It’s a primer about how to think about the design of houses, based on his experience running the agency The Modern House and, even more, from a very obvious passionate knowledge and expertise about all aspects of house design. I have just been reading about the difference between arakabe (Japanese) and tadelakt (Moroccan). I like the way that the book is a mixture of the mystic and highly practical and feel that it should be compulsory reading in all architecture schools to get architects to be sensitive to the mood and character of space, light and materials in interiors:-
Because I was staying near the Frari, I decided to explore the Sestiere S. Polo, an area that I know much less well than the more touristy parts of Venice east of the Grand Canal.
I started at the Frari, where I admired the Bellini in a chapel by the cloister:-
Then I went to S. Rocco, next door to the Scuola:-
The rest is the result of idle wandering:-
There is a certain charm to arriving in Venice so severely out of season. I embarked from the tram and crossed a bridge to S. Nicola da Tolentino, begun by Scamozzi, its facade completed by Andrea Tirali in 1714:-
Next door is one of the buildings I was keen to see – Carlo Scarpa’s entrance to the Istituto di Architettura di Venezia, where Scarpa taught:-
I went to the Scuola di San Rocco. I had forgotten how amazing it is, and not just for the Tintorettos, so powerful and moving as they are, but for Francesco Pianta’s seventeenth-century wood carving as well:-
I missed a conference about the future of architecture organised by Sauerbruch Hutton at the end of October, but was keen to see M9, the museum they have designed in Mestre, the industrial suburb of Venice. The project was privately funded by the Fondazione di Venezia, the charitable partner of the Banco di Risparmio di Venezia. They bought a big block in the centre of Mestre formerly occupied by an army barracks. In 2010, Sauerbruch Hutton won an international competition to create a new urban district, incorporating what remains of a monastery. The museum opened on 1 December 2018.
On the top floor is a big open exhibition space, currently showing an exhibition of Sauerbruch Hutton’s work, Draw, Love, Build:-
It includes a model of M9, a big building, but low-rise, its bulk to some extent disguised by their characteristic use of multi-coloured tilework:-
The exhibition shows the amazing range of their work across Europe, with many big projects in Germany, including Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt, but, also, for example, a new theatre at Brighton College (they make very beautiful models for their projects):-
And the Brandhorst Museum in Munich:-
M9 itself has an attractive intellectual austerity to it, many of the interior spaces in shuttered concrete, with two floors of very ambitious interactive displays on the social history and ethnography of twentieth-century Italy:-
I am posting a short-ish film of a discussion organised by Apollo in which four of us – Xavier Bray, the Director of the Wallace Collection, Sarah Rowley of Charles Russell Speechlys, Tom Marks, the former editor of Apollo, and I – consider some of the knotty problems surrounding museum governance: what to do about minutes to satisfy the requirements of history; how to ensure diversity on a board when the role is unpaid; to what extent is it possible to define and describe the requirements of probity; how to ensure that trustees lead on fund-raising, but at the same time are representative of the audience. No solutions are provided, only a description of some of the current issues.
I thought that I had pretty well had all the reviews I was likely to get for my book, when, lo and behold, one has appeared in the Claremont Review of Books by Brian T. Allen, a writer and former museum director (at the Addison Gallery of American Art) who writes about the museums I have covered, adding his own perspective. He loves the Menil Collection, as do I, and writes particularly interestingly about the Broad Museum and both the strengths and possible weaknesses of the forthcoming Los Angeles County Museum, which I touch on only lightly in my Conclusion. I particularly like his conclusion: ‘it has a to-the-point look that fits Charles Saumarez Smith’s style and his studied detachment’. Precisely !
By the way, if you are desperately looking for Christmas presents, as am I, the book is available at all good booksellers, especially John Sandoe, Heywood Hill and Hatchard’s.