Breakfast with Edmund. He told the story which I hadn’t heard before as to how his exhibition at the RA came about: that as he was undertaking the journeys which led to the writing of his book White, he kept a checklist of objects that he would like to include in an imaginary exhibition. And that he then looked for an appropriate space to show the exhibition, liking the idea of somewhere which was silent and secret, a space for contemplation. But, paradoxically, the exhibition has inspired in its visitors not so much silent contemplation as conversation and discussion:-
I spent the second half of the afternoon going round Edmund de Waal’s exhibition in the RA Library with Edmund himself. It inevitably makes one look and pay attention to the objects differently if one is told how and why they have been chosen: the elephant folio; the Cy Twombly sculpture which I had not noticed previously and about which he was lecturing at Tate Britain last night; the Rachel Whiteread; Turner’s beautiful ceramic palette; and the Renaissance bust which is the only record of a bust destroyed in Berlin in the war. What is nice is the sense of a treasure hunt in the shelves, guided by his pleasure in the private world of the library and lent artefacts.
Today we’re celebrating a small installation in our Library to coincide with the publication of Edmund de Waal’s new book, White. There is something appropriately serious and thoughtful to it only being a small group of choice objects, some of them selected from, and all of them incorporated in, Jim Cadbury-Brown’s great historical/modernist library space. Morandi and John Cage, Tristram Shandy and Rachel Whiteread, an Ai Weiwei marble lantern set into one of the bookcases and discreet vitrines of Edmund’s own work. But no photographs and only fifty people an hour, four days a week, bookable in advance, and concerts by the Aurora Orchestra to accompany it.
While I was on holiday I read the proof of Edmund de Waal’s latest book, The White Road: a pilgrimage of sorts. It’s a nearly impossible act to follow Hare with the Amber Eyes and the book is more ruminative and episodic, as suggested by the tentativeness of the title’s ‘a pilgrimage of sorts‘. But it has many of the same characteristics: an imaginative intensity of investigation into aspects of his private history, on this occasion the making and meaning of porcelain; his rich and often poetic use of language; an understanding of the relationship of the present to the past. He is particularly good on the discovery of porcelain in the court of Augustus the Strong, recreating the world of baroque alchemy, and on the Quaker milieu of William Cookworthy. There’s an alternative concealed narrative about the development of his own work, including a cryptic reference to Grievance. Maybe this will be the subject of his next book.