St. Baglan’s, Llanfaglan

We love St. Baglan’s: so quiet, so isolated on a knoll by the side of the Straits on the site of an earlier church, looked after by the Friends of Friendless Churches since February 1991:-

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Looking forwards

What is there to look forward to in 2022 ?

In terms of museum openings, the Burrell Collection re-opens in March after a radical renovation of its building in Pollok Park. The new National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design opens in Oslo on June 11th. combining the collections of the former National Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Norwegian Museum of Decorative Arts and Design. The Barbican will soon announce the results of its architectural competition, which will give an indication as to how radically it plans to re-invent itself, to justify the huge budget allocated to it. And the big extension to the Art Gallery of New South Wales by SANAA is due to open in December.

In London, Gainsborough’s Blue Boy arrives at the National Gallery a hundred years after he left for California, its Raphael exhibition opens, God willing, in April, and it is doing a Lucian Freud exhibition next autumn. The Royal Academy is doing a William Kentridge exhibition in the autumn. And in March, the Barbican is opening what looks to be a radical reappraisal of the character of post-war art in Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain 1945-1965, something which Tate Britain should have done. Langlands & Bell are doing an exhibition at Charleston, Cornelia Parker has a retrospective at Tate Britain. And I’m really pleased to see that the Ikon is doing an exhibition on Crivelli, which we were encouraged to do at the RA. Also, don’t miss Gold of the Great Steppe which closes at the Fitzwilliam at the end of January.

In terms of books, I’ve been looking forward to Owen Hatherley’s Modern Buildings in Britain: a Gazetteer, now being published in April. Frances Spalding has written a study of art between the wars, The Real and the Romantic: English Art between the Two World Wars. There’s also a book coming out about Culture as Scandal: the Hermitage Story, co-written by its director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, an intriguing thought.

What else ? There’s the opening of Niall McLaughlin’s Faith Museum at Bishop Auckland, but I don’t know when that’s happening. Also, David Kohn is doing an interesting expansion of New College, Oxford.

There’s much coming up, COVID permitting.

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St. Beuno, Penmorfa

It was a treat to turn off the A487 in Penmorfa and discover a small, medieval, winding lane leading to St. Beuno, a church looked after by the Friends of Friendless Churches (thank you, Rachel), hidden up a bank behind a vast lychgate (1698):-

I liked the atmospheric vestry room:-

And the tombs in the damp graveyard:-

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Theatr Harlech

We were taken on a pilgrimage to see the Theatr Harlech, a very weird, early 1970s building, described by Pevsner as ‘unaccomodatingly different’. Indeed. It’s underneath the castle and somewhat derelict, but about to be renovated:-

More spectacular, because even more brutalist, is the adjacent Hall of Residence, which looks as if it will remain a noble ruin:-

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Looking back

I have been musing, as one does, on 2021, prompted not least by the host of articles on its best and worst.

The first part of the year, so far as I was concerned, was dominated by the publication of my book The Art Museum in Modern Times.   It now seems long ago – lots of online talks, conversations and podcasts.   I attach links to the two I most enjoyed in case you need some Christmas diversion:  one on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=el1sR-VKTWM);  a second, a long meditative conversation with Jarrett Fuller (https://scratchingthesurface.fm/201-charles-saumarez-smith).

I hadn’t anticipated the extent to which restitution has become such a dominant subject in museums, not just the big, multidisciplinary, archaeological museums, but museums more generally, as if collecting, classification and the academic study of the cultures of the past are inevitably tainted by the legacy of colonialism.   There’s now a good short book on the subject by Alexander Herman.

I was able to see the new Munch Museum in Oslo, thanks to reviewing it for the Burlington Magazine: a big event museologically;  not a particularly lovely building from outside, a storage silo on the docks, but, providing the lifts don’t break down, a wonderfully rich resource for the study of Munch and his influence on contemporary art, for locals at least as much as for international tourists.

The fight to preserve the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a working Foundry ended in May.   It will now presumably be turned, as planned, into a boutique hotel, although I can’t help but notice that work has not begun, several other hotels have opened in the neighbourhood, and one wonders if the market for luxury hotels is as buoyant as it was before the pandemic.

Meanwhile, several other big projects in the City have been turned down:  the skyscraper next to the Bevis Marks Synagogue;  the development of the Custom House.   Perhaps the mood will turn towards regeneration rather than comprehensive and destructive new development.   It should.

My exhibition of the year was Becket at the British Museum (https://charlessaumarezsmith.com/2021/06/24/thomas-a-becket/), which I went to twice, both times with Emily Guerry, herself a Becket expert.   I would also add Hals at the Wallace Collection, which I did not blog about, but really enjoyed – much more than I expected, having inherited an art historical view that he is a touch too obvious in his bravura.

Will 2021 have been a political turning point ?  It does begin to seem so, as the right wing and the newspapers themselves turn against the government as arrogant, seedy, self-seeking and corrupt and Starmer and his front bench begin to be viewed as solid and serious, as they deserve.   But there’s a long way to go.

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The beach at Aberffraw

The beach at Aberffraw was wild and beautiful on Christmas morning at high tide:-

The mountains of the Lleyn Peninsula in the sunshine in the distance:-

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Happy Christmas

I have been meaning to post a photograph I took a while ago of the view out of our dining room window one sunny morning.

I do so now as a way of wishing my readers a very Happy Christmas. You are a very elite group – not large in numbers, but I’m pleased to say very loyal, even in spite of my occasional rants. I like the sense of knowing who and where you are: a select group in California; one in Texas; one in Japan; a couple in Australia.

The photograph is an emblem of the last year. Less travel. But the pleasures of small things in the house.

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