John Dancy (2)

A friend of mine – not an Old Marlburian – pointed out that an obituary has now appeared of my former headmaster, John Dancy, or JCD as he was known. I am re-posting it even though there may be lots of people, including me, who don’t have a subscription to the Times, because it is a good example of how little one sometimes knows of people except in death.

So, I did not know that his parents were liberal East London doctors; nor that he had been inspired to become a schoolteacher instead of an Oxford don, as he easily could have been, by the experience of interrogating members of the Hitler Youth, thereby recognising the formative importance of a liberal school education; nor that he had been sporty before contracting polio in his twenties (he walked with an obvious limp); nor that he had been a member of the Newsom Commission in the 1960s which recommended the integration of the public schools with the state system. He was impressive as a figurehead and I now better understand why.


Gulbenkian Foundation

On my previous visit to the Gulbenkian a couple of years ago, we concentrated on the museum and its great collection:-

I didn’t register the full extent of the surrounding park. The offices of the Foundation:-

Its interiors which are so beautifully preserved:-

And the building which houses the Modern Collection, designed by Leslie Martin and opened in 1983:-


Art on Display 1949-69 (2)

The second half of the exhibition is much less obvious than the first because it’s spread through the galleries on the main floor, tracing their original design and the extent to which it has changed.

The architects who won the competition in 1960 were Alberto Pessoa, Ruy d’Athouguia and Pedro Cid. But the key person determining the design of the galleries was the Italian, Franco Albini, one of the advisors on the project. They drew up a version of a computer programme to help with the layout:-

Then they did a detailed layout:-

The galleries have remained true to the spirit, if not the details of the original design:-

This is the Islamic Gallery as it was in 1969:-

This is how it is now:-

The Chinese Gallery then:-

The Chinese Gallery now:-

The paintings galleries as they were:-

The paintings galleries now:-


Art on Display 1949-69 (1)

My trip to Lisbon has been to catch the exhibition Art on Display 1949-69 before it closes at the end of the month (it then transfers to Het Nieuwe Institut in Rotterdam, but not till July).

It’s based on the premise that the style of display adopted by the new Gulbenkian Museum when it opened in 1969 reflected a style of design and display pioneered in Italy in the 1950s, particularly since an influential advisor to the new museum, alongside Leslie Martin, was Franco Albini. This is quite an esoteric subject, but fascinating for those of us who are interested in how collections have been presented and hung in the past.

It starts with the work of Franca Helg and Franco Albini in the Palazzo Bianco in Genoa (I thought Carlo Scarpa was the pioneer). They went on to design an exhibition in São Paulo in 1954, presumably for Pietro Maria Bardi:-

Scarpa followed their example of taking pictures off the wall and often out of their frame and hung them on elaborately crafted easels:-

Meanwhile, Aldo van Eyck was encouraging the Cobra artists to be more adventurous in the ways in which they displayed art in the galleries of the Stedelijk Museum:-

The system of display used by Alison and Peter Smithson used for Lawrence Gowing’s exhibition Painting & Sculpture of a Decade 54-64 looks relatively tame by comparison, consisting of free-standing white walls standing entirely independently of their classical surroundings – what Alison Smithson called ‘The Milky Way’:-

Last of these pioneers in new systems of display was Lina Bo Bardi, whose husband, Pietro Maria Bardi, was the Director of MASP (the Art Museum of São Paulo). Her system of display in which paintings are hung on glass screens set in concrete blocks has been reconstructed (it inspired Piers Gough’s display of the early twentieth-century collection at the NPG:-

It’s a very good exhibition for the Gulbenkian to have organised to mark its fiftieth anniversary.


The Colour of the Sky after Rain

I promised to read more of Tessa Keswick’s book about her travels round China, The Colour of the Sky after Rain, on my flight to Lisbon today.   It’s an intensely romantic and personal account of her love affair with China which she has explored both intensively and extensively after her marriage in 1985 to Henry, the great taipan and my chairman of trustees at the National Portrait Gallery.

The book incidentally provides a great deal of information about the operation of Jardine Mattheson, the great Scottish trading company, established at the time of the First Opium War, run from Shanghai in the 1920s by Henry’s father, Tony Keswick, and his uncle John, they were driven out of Shanghai by the Japanese in 1942, and the company was effectively re-established by Henry in Hong Kong in the 1960s when he acquired a controlling interest in big companies including Dairy Farm, Gammon (a big construction company), Jardine Cycle and Carriage and the Mandarin Hotel.

I’m learning a lot about how much China has changed in the last thirty years, what it’s like outside the biggest cities, including, incidentally, Wuhan, and the growth of business interests there, including those of Jardine.


Factum Arte

I have just been sent the attached YouTube film to help with the fundraising for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. It’s a short film – calling it an advertisement would demean it – made about the work of Factum Arte, whose Foundation is a key partner in the plan to revitalise the Bell Foundry through working with artists and the use of new technology. It’s short, but clever, and I think persuasive about how new ways of working can revitalise old ones, leave aside the plug for Santander:-


Bill Brandt

My post about Brandt has prompted someone who did know him, not necessarily well, but met him enough to convey a sense of his strong charm and intelligence – shy and quietly spoken, yes (‘a v quiet voice that made one listen closely and bend towards him to hear’) – but also warm, well dressed – ‘very attractive, lovely clothes, sparkling eyes’. I don’t know why I wanted a sense of what he was like: something about the ambiguity of the status of a photographer in the 1930s and whether he considered himself an artist, which he obviously did, but also with the advantage or disadvantage of his residual slight Germanness. ‘Restrained, but interesting’ is a good description of him, arriving in New York to meet John Szarkowski.