Rachel Whiteread

We just went on our first expedition to see Rachel Whiteread’s new exhibition at Gagosian – by accident, as it opened. It was a strange experience being back in a gallery. The work is so different – so much less austere, the world exploded, but that is perhaps appropriate for these times:-


Philip Johnson

Just before Christmas, I read the statement made by Sarah Whiting, the Dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, that in future no reference would be made to Philip Johnson’s design of his so-called thesis house on the corner of Ash Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, but in future it would be known only as 9, Ash Street. I hadn’t know that he had been a late vocation student under Gropius in the early days of the Second World War, having spent the 1930s, first as a fervent advocate for Modernism – the International Style – and then as an equally fervent supporter of Nazism – no secret, but not previously known to me. This combination of beliefs struck me as deeply unexpected, but interesting, and the accompanying article is an attempt to interpret the conjunction:-



From temple to labyrinth

A very nice review in this week’s Spectator – it says exactly what I would want someone to think of my book as a guide to the known and unknown amongst museums, not wholly logical in the ones I have chosen to write about, except that they are almost universally ones that I admire:-



Decontextualisation in museum display

There was a lively discussion last night organised by the Bard Graduate Centre about issues of museum display. Richard Rand, the Associate Director of Collections at the Getty Museum, spoke particularly interestingly about attitudes to display both at the Getty itself, where they are attempting to deal with the strange disjunction between the white austerity of Richard Meier’s architecture and the interior design by Thierry Despont, which was always an odd mismatch; and at the Los Angeles County Museum, where the new galleries are planned to be ahistorical – the works of art as ‘floating signifiers’. It looks like the new displays at Frick Madison are going to have a big impact on gallery thinking and gallery design. See the attached thoughtful article by Anne Higonnet on the differences between a psudo-historical and an ahistorical setting.



Whitechapel Bell Foundry (74)

The campaign to save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry has entered a new phase, demonstrating how, if kept as a proper working Foundry, not just a tourist attraction attached to a boutique hotel, it can work with local artists on bell-related projects. What could be a better way to celebrate the easing of lockdown than for Robert Jenrick, the Minister responsible, to announce the salvation of the Bell Foundry and the repudiation of its development as a redundant luxury hotel ? Then, Big Ben and church bells throughout the country can ring out in celebration.



Museum Conversations

This, post is really for my American readers. In advance of the publication of my book, I am involved in a seminar this afternoon (Eastern Summer Time) organised by my friend, Ivan Gaskell, Professor of Cultural History and Museum Studies at the Bard Graduate Center in New York (https://www.bgc.bard.edu/events/1216/07-apr-2021-museum-conversations). I will be discussing the book with Ivan and Richard Rand, the Associate Director of Collections at the Getty Museum. I wasn’t sure how far it was a private event, but have now learned that others are allowed to join if interested, but you need to register in advance before 3pm (EST). Of course, it is possible to join this side of the Atlantic as well, but you will need likewise to register and it starts at 10pm (BST).


Patricia Cummings Loud

This is a slightly esoteric post, but I have been writing something about the historiographical difficulties of writing about museum architecture and was about to exempt the two great art museums by Louis Kahn – the Kimbell in Fort Worth and the Yale Center for British Art, both of which have been already much studied and are admirably well documented, partly thanks to an art historian, Patricia Cummings Loud, who wrote a big monograph on the Kimbell and then a subsequent book on The Art Museums of Louis Kahn, published by Duke University Press, of which I luckily have a battered copy. I have discovered that she only died quite recently (https://www.sah.org/about-sah/news/member-news/2021/03/09/obituary-patricia-cummings-loud-(1930-20212)), not, it appears, of COVID, so I salute her memory as a notable pioneer in the study and documentation of museums and I wish there had been more like her.