The Stage, 16/5/2013
The Nicks, Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr, have taken a leaf out of the RSC book and announced together that they are leaving the National Theatre, just as Michael Boyd and Vikki Heywood did. The implication is that the undoubted success that both companies have had in terms of critical acclaim and business efficiency, has been a joint effort between the two brains, artistic and commercial. Michael Grandage and James Bierman were the same at the Donmar, leaving together but in their case staying together, setting up the Michael Grandage Company together last year (the Nicks might follow a similar course, taking a subsidised sector praxis into a commercial operation).
There is no doubting the success that those partnerships have wrought over the last eight to ten years, and that success trickles down in the perception of the cultural sector. Both the National and the RSC are aware that their brands can help regional theatres when their logos appear on touring venues’ billposters.
To them, Maria Miller’s lecture about making art pay was old hat. They have cracked it, and the secret is understanding that the process of creating art that people will pay to see is too complex to be interrupted by commercial implications. Leave that to someone you trust implicitly, says Boyd/Hytner/Grandage, while you devote every innovative fibre to artistic genius, and the alchemy is done. Not only do you get great plays, but you get commercial income and new theatres to boot.
That’s what happens at the top level, but the creative process is no less imperative lower down the chain. No less imperative, but dramatically more difficult.
In the realm of music festivals one of the most innovative and successful in terms of bringing home the box office has been Ian Ritchie, who has run the City of London Festival for eight years, but the 2013 festival in June and July will be his last. One factor that has driven him out of the job is the need to spend more and more time on the commercial necessity of fund-raising in the face of dwindling subsidy and elusive sponsorship, at the cost of creativity.
“Creating a new programme each year, which one has to do, is in a way as demanding as being required to produce a new symphony or write a new opera each year. It is a creative process, it’s not routine, and it’s not a shopping expedition to see what’s available and then just buying it and programming it in,” Ritchie says.
For him, the model of a partnership at the head of an endeavour, one for the art the other for the money, that works for the National Theatre and the RSC needs to be adapted for humbler, but no less vital, aspects of the artistic creativity if they are to survive. For the first time his subsidy doesn’t cover core funding, and there is no main sponsor. He has managed it, but it has become too much for one person. “Partnership is more than half the answer,” he says.
The trouble is that the City of London Festival Trust has increasingly limited resources, and despite listening sympathetically to Ritchie’s recommendation, it cannot afford two senior executive salaries – the former head of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Paul Gudgin, is to take over, alone.
There is no shortage of gumption, will and innovation in smaller arts organisations’ as they take on the new challenge of survival. A year ago the Northumberland Theatre Company, the ensemble that tours to unconventional venues such as village halls and community centres, lost its Arts Council funding, 65% of its income. Many businesses in the private sector would have not had second thoughts about folding under those odds, but not NTC.
They created themselves out of the immediate crisis by delivering three main features, and four new plays by new writers, which brought in an additional £68,500 through box office alone. They rattled their tin to get what, with matching funding from the Arts Council’s Catalyst scheme, amounted to £9.500. Altogether they raised almost £160,000, and despite the fact that 80% of sponsorship and philanthropy for the arts in England is set in London. To do it, the staff of three and a half went on short-time working.
So this should be the object lesson that proves Mrs Miller’s point, but it isn’t. Not according to its own artistic director/CEO Gillian Hambleton.
“Our huge success in fundraising last year is no guarantee of success this year or beyond,” she says. “There are limited numbers of trusts and foundations for arts projects or core funding – these are all heavily oversubscribed and many require a gap of at least two years before re-applying. ACE GftA applications are also over subscribed for the funds that are available. Individual donations to NTC have increased but not to a level of sustainability.
“Despite a major strategic business overhaul and diversification of income streams our main mission of touring to non-traditional theatre spaces limits income and opportunities to increase it further. NTC’s time is now focused on fundraising, not on the art or on our audiences.”
The Nicks and their comparitors testify that in Mrs Miller’s world the most commercially successful cultural organisations are two parent families. What she does not realise is that beneath aristocracy of arts society, the single parent families that are the norm like the City of London Festival and NTC know that commerciality is a key to political approval, but that the struggle to survive without government assistance, or with it greatly reduced, is so consuming that the art they are devoted to is the inevitable victim.
The Times, 20/5/2013
Murals created under the Wiltshire countryside to cheer up wartime subterranean aircraft workers have been listed Grade II* by English Heritage, writes Simon Tait.
The factory at Corsham later became a Cold War secret underground Central Government War Headquarters elements of which have themselves been scheduled as monuments, but its wall decorations have been singled out for special care because of their quality and their social references.
The listing highlights the Second World War work there of the artist Olga Lehmann, once a celebrity portrait painter and muralist whose work now is hard to find.
The reason for listing, according to the official entry in the latest National Heritage List for England, is that the murals are “an exemplary illustration of the fashion of the period for secular murals, the need to improve the welfare and morale of staff working underground for the war effort”.
The listing also says that the paintings should be preserved because they are the only known surviving murals by Lehmann, and their remarkable state of preservation. “Although many of the murals have faded or flaked over time, to varying degrees, the majority clearly retain their theme, string palette and spirit,” it says.
The vast cavern had been a Bath stone quarry which was converted to become an underground aircraft factory after the British Aeroplane Company’s factory near Bristol was bombed in 1940. At the height of the Luftwaffe Blitz, Lord Beaverbrook, the wartime aircraft production minister, issued an urgent plan for relocation underground, an order that was endorsed by prime minister Winston Churchill.
By 1940 there were 3,000 acres of tunnels over 60 miles and up to 100 feet below ground. Beaverbrook’s ministry requisitioned 76 acres and gave BAC six months to complete its plant to produce Hercules engines.
There would be about 10,000 workers underground at any point, and to cheer them up BAC’s owner, Sir Reginald Verdon-Smith commissioned Lehmann, then at the height of her popularity, to paint murals in various areas around the installation. The paintings shown here come from the main canteen.
She and her assistant, Gilbert Wood, were given six weeks during which they painted more than 100 murals using the paint they found. Thirty-two have survived.
They depict everyday leisure: fairground scenes, barmaids, what seems to be Epsom Derby Day, a wedding, a family sitting down to a Sunday roast among them and even a pair of 1940s paparazzi looking for race-going celebrities.
Lehmann, who died in 2001 aged 89, was born in Chile but moved to England in 1929 to study at the Slade School of Fine Art, winning several prizes. Through the 1930s she developed her reputation as a muralist and portrait painter. Murals were a popular fad of the 1930s, and she created them for hotels, shops, and restaurants and was commissioned to design decorations for George V’s silver jubilee celebrations in 1935. After the war she became better known for her film and television set designs, storyboards, costume designs and illustration in Radio Times. She painted portraits of stars such as Peter Sellers, Dirk Bogarde and Marlene Dietrich, and later Charlton Heston and Stephanie Beacham.
The scale of the operation to create the factory was enormous, with costs spiralling form an original estimate of £100,000 to £20m. Engine production never reached its optimum at Corsham, and in 1945 the factory closed. In 1954 it was acquired to become the secret Cold War underground government HQ, and some of the murals were disfigured or lost in the conversion work. In 1979 it became an RAF communications centre and has been disused since the RAF left in the mid-1990s.
“Listing makes sure that they will be regularly inspected and their condition monitored,” said Roger Bowdler, English Heritage’s designation director. “It was a real thrill to find these paintings that had been secret for so many years. So few murals which were once so popular have survived.”
Still owned by the Ministry of Defence, the underground art gallery is unlikely to be open to the public. Health and safety issues as well as security make general access prohibitively expensive.
The Times, 11/5/2013
With almost a discernible sigh of relief, for the first time the Royal Academy’s sculptors have been freed from the fastnesses of Burlington House, the RA’s Piccadilly home, and been allowed to range free in one of the finest gardens in the country.
Barely into his second year as the RA’s President, Christopher Le Brun’s mission to get the members, many of them famous in their own right, seen as RAs beyond the precincts of the Royal Academy itself moves an important step forward with the exhibition that has just (March 30) opened in the grounds, formal and wilderness, of Hatfield House (originally planted by the Tradescants, gardeners and collectors whose own cabinet of curiosities was to be the kernel of the Ashmolean Museum).
“I’m anxious that the public become much better aware of the extraordinary talent we have among the RA’s sculptors, and this is a wonderful opportunity”, Le Brun says. There has been an exhibition of RA’s work, and not just of sculpture, which has travelled to Singapore and Qatar in the last 18 months, but this is the first in the UK. He is planning one for Moscow for 20 members next year.
For this show, Here, There and Somewhere In Between, the Academy is the guest of the Marquess of Salisbury who began showing sculpture in the gardens three years ago to mark Hatfield House’s 400th anniversary. “I always thought the place would be ideal for sculpture,” he says – with an exhibition of Henry Moore pieces, and the arrangement with the RA was forged then.
It is a refined exhibition of only six artists, curated by one of them, Bill Woodrow, who was invited to do so by Le Brun, with support from RA staff. “I had three criteria in choosing them,” Woodrow says. “They had to be RAs, they had to have a piece that they felt would work in the environment, and I had to like their work”.
The other five he chose were Ann Christopher, Alison Wilding, Gary Hume, Michael Craig-Martin and Richard Deacon . “I felt there was too much in the Henry Moore show, and I wanted ours to be more of a process of discovery, that you would come upon each piece, not so much unexpectedly as not looking for it. And I was interested in how abstract forms could work with nature, although they are not all abstract”.
So Wilding’s resin pyramidal forms appear on top of a holly hedge, although with most of the body hidden in the hedge, as if they had always been there. Craig-Martin’s giant purple hammer is encountered in the middle of a hedged walkway, a steel outline almost unseen until you are upon it. Richard Deacon’s large rhomboidal steel structure, Congregate, nestles in a dell like a sleeping monster, while Ann Christopher’s striking riven black steel shard stands among imperious beech trees, almost challenging them. Gary Hume’s organic bud-like pillars made of polished sandstone, one standing tranquilly in a flower bed, the other on a rise among the trees, could be the natural products of spring gone haywire.
There were no vyings for position, Woodrow insists. “I was interested in seeing how abstract shapes could work in a landscape like that, and the artists have chosen so well, as I knew they would”.
Woodrow himself has chosen the prime site for his Endeavour [Cannon Dredged from the First Wreck of the Ship of Fools], which seems at first sight to be a genuine bronze cannon blackened by age; it is bronze, but close-up it turns out to be a construction of errors – the cannon balls are casts of globes, the barrel is the trunk of a tree almost in leaf and the whole thing seems to be supported by a spindly figure with overgrown genitals biting its own arm. The piece stands in front of the entrance to Hatfield House on a spot that used to be a coach park but was grassed over only last year, and it looks as if it has been there since the first earl built the place. It is, in fact, part of Woodrow’s Ship of Fools series, a monument to the folly of war which was a preoccupation for Lord Salisbury’s Elizabethan ancestors.
Contemporary sculpture in famous landscapes is not new. Yorkshire Sculpture Park was the pioneer, and Chatsworth’s Duke of Devonshire has done it with moderate success; Roche Court in Wiltshire is devoted to contemporary sculpture, and at least four of the Hatfield House artists show there regularly, but this is the first defined by its artists being RAs. “It seems obvious now, and we’d love to do it again – not every year, but perhaps as a biennial,” says Salisbury, who is also a collector. “Would I like any of them? One, but I’m not telling you which it is. And I probably couldn’t afford it, anyway…”
Here, There and Somewhere in Between: The Royal Academy at Hatfield House runs until September 29
The Times, 11/5/2013
Gallery director who transformed Kettles’ Yard in Cambridge into an international mecca for modern art
Kettle’sYard, the quirky Cambridge art museum that has been a magnet for modern art lovers for almost 60 years, owes its current expansive development and its global reputation to its director for 19 years, Michael Harrison, who has died from cancer aged 66. “He managed to make Kettle’s Yard come alive again,” said his friend and former colleague Caroline Collier.
Harrison transformed the group of cottages from a much loved venue with a limited audience to an exhibition centre with an international reputation, doubling visitor numbers along the way, at the same time somehow enhancing its intimacy. “He had a mind with no barriers as far as art was concerned, and he was a perfect fit for the comfortable informal atmosphere,” said Ms Collier, now director of Tate National.
Kettle’s Yard had belonged to Jim Ede, a former Tate curator of contemporary art, and his wife Helen who in 1956 acquired and converted four cottages to be both their home and to display their large collection of art, largely from the British and European avant garde of the first half of the 20th century. They believed that great art should be absorbed in a relaxed, domestic setting and the collection included work by the likes of Ben Nicholson, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Constantin Brâncuşi and Joan Miró. He would give personal tours to Cambridge university students, and in 1966 he gave the centre to the university before moving to Edinburgh in 1973, having added an exhibition gallery. He was succeeded by a series of much younger “residents” as curators, and by 1992 the museum had lost its direction.
“With my appointment (in 1992) the thought was that Kettle’s Yard was developing,” Harrison recalled in 2008, three years before his own retirement. “If you look at the map of Kettle’s Yard and think of the cottages to start with, it’s spread itself over the years and at that stage, in the early 90s, there were plans for further development. It was becoming an organisation which was taking on more and more, and the thought was that it needed somebody with a little more experience and somebody longer in the tooth, and that’s when I appeared on the scene.”
Simon Groom, now director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, was given his first job as a curator by Harrison in 1999. “He had a wonderful eye, and was incredibly trusting,” Dr Groom recalled. “For my very first exhibition he let me go to Tokyo to bring together a group of artists that hadn’t worked together for 20 years, and put on the Mono-ha exhibition – entirely my own idea, but he had complete faith”.
He turned the fortunes of Kettle’s Yard around with a series of carefully crafted and curated exhibitions, showing both unknown and well established artists with whom he established a rapport – Priunella Clough, Alan Reynolds, Callum Innes, Bridget Riley, Roger Hilton – and explorations such as Lines of Enquiry: thinking through drawing; Starting at Zero: Black Mountain College, 2006 – originally another collaboration with Caroline Collier, this time with the Arnolfini; and Beyond Measure: conversations across art and science.
He could be said to have discovered the ceramicist and author Edmund de Waal, giving him his first exhibition. “He was enormously generous as a curator,” Mr de Waal said. “He knew Kettle’s Yard was a house that had been put together by artists and so had to evolve. Rather than lay down the rules about the place, he simply said ‘Now, what are you going to do?’. He was open to all possibilities, which is very rare in a curator, even more so in a museum curator. For him there was no template – he could be very mischievous”.
Born in Tyneside, Michael Harrison studied fine art and art history at Nottingham University, joining the Arts Council as a regional officer on graduating. He became exhibitions organiser and then assistant director of regional exhibitions for the Arts Council, under Joanna Drew. He was responsible for the seminal British Art Show 3 in 1990, which focussed on emerging artists under 35 and included Cornelia Parker, Gary Hume, Callum Innes, Mona Hatoum, Rachel Whiteread, Willie Doherty and Fiona Rae.
Caroline Collier worked for Harrison in the 1980s, and later collaborated with him when she was general manager of the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill on the Carving Mountains exhibition of 1998. “It was incredibly complicated, a survey of modern sculpture, but Michael pretty much took it on himself. He was so sensitive to art he could make any space right for it, often the most unconventional, and generations of curators owe so much to him”.
He became director of Kettle’s Yard after spells at the Southbank Centre and then as head of fine art at Winchester School of Art.
The significant principles of his time, according to Dr Groom, were connectability – art that seemed comfortable in the informal environment of Kettle’s Yard – and education, a process that was not confined to any age group.
He introduced new music to the house with regular Thursday evening concerts for which he appointed fellows and associates that have included John Woolrich, Richard Baker, the Camberwell Composers Collective and Stephen Montague. He believed that listening to music at Kettle’s Yard expanded responses to and pleasure in the art.
He expanded the education programme, but saw the need for a new-build education wing and developed a £5m scheme, launching an appeal to pay for it. Shortly before his retirement he organised a selling exhibition for which artists including Damien Hirst, Bridget Riley, Antony Gormley, David Hockney, Michael Craig-Martin, David Nash, Sir Anthony Caro, and Maggi Hambling gave art, and it raised £700,000.
So successful was his campaign that his successor, Andrew Nairne, was able to expand the proposal to an £8m education wing scheme, with added functions including new exhibition space and a café, work on which is now expected to be completed until 2016, while Kettle’s Yard itself remains open.
In 1973 Michael Harrison married Marie-Claude Bouquet, who survives him along with their four children.
Michael Anthony Harrison, museum director, was born April 30th 1947 and died on April 25th 2013, aged 65.
The Times, 4/5/2013
By Simon Tait
Sir Robert Walpole’s place in history is as the first and still longest-serving prime minister, but his art collection was easily the best in Britain and challenged, his son Horace wrote, the finest of the famous Italian assemblages.
So highly regarded was it that after Walpole’s death the radical politician John Wilkes told the House of Commons that it should be bought for the nation to become the nucleus of a national gallery, almost half a century before the National Gallery finally came into being.
But he was too late. The 204 paintings from Walpole’s Norfolk stately home, Houghton Hall, had been sold to none other than Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. “I would as soon let the Walpole paintings go as a cat would a mouse” she wrote to a correspondent.
The pictures became an important part of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Over the years it has been whittled down to about 124 pictures, some have been lost without trace, but the kernel of it, 34 paintings, has returned to England for the first time since the sale to go on exhibition at the Hermitage Rooms in Somerset House.
The exhibition includes work by Rubens, van Dyck, Lely, Guido Reni, Salvator Rosa, Rembrandt, Poussin, Vlaude Lorrain and Murillo.
An early Rubens, The Carters, which hung in Lady Walpole’s drawing room at 10 Downing Street before being moved to Houghton, had probably belonged to Cardinal Mazarin, the effective ruler of France during the minority of Louis XIV.
In his own dressing room Walpole had his favourites picture, a classical landscape by Claude Lorrain with Apollo and Cumaean Sibyl.
In fact, Walpole had an international reputation as a collector. When a Reni was reported to have been sold Pope Innocent XIII declared that it was too fine a picture to be allowed out of Romne, but on hearing that it was Walpole who had bought it – for a princely £700 – he gave permission.
“Sir Robert loved politics above anything, and he loved being at Houghton” said his descendent and present owner of Houghton Hall, the Marquess of Cholmondeley. “They would hunt six days a week and in the evening he would hold his political soirees – ‘Norfolk congresses’ he called them – with local Whigs. The amazing thing is that he never left Britain, certainly never went to Italy, yet collected what were agreed were the best of European art available. He obviously had a great eye”.
Walpole also had a wide network of advisers and contacts abroad, and his son Horace, who built Strawberry Hill and catalogued the Houghton Hall collection just before his father’s death, reckoned a Poussin, The Holy Family with Saints Elisabeth and John the Baptist as “one of the most Capital Pictures in this collection”.
The son of a Norfolk squire, Walpole never lost his love of the bucolic life at Houghton although he owned several houses in London. No 10 Downing Street was offered to him by George II as a gift, but he only accepted it as an official residence for the First Lord of the Treasury.
His rise to power owed much to the South Sea Bubble of the 1720s in which he invested heavily but sold his shares before the bubble burst, and skilfully avoided scandal attaching to most of the government ministers who had been involved.
Most politicians of the period were liable to accusations of graft and Walpole spent some time in the Tower of London, which he used to build a powerbase in the Whig party. Towards the end of his life there were attempts to impeach him for “gross misdemeanours” and there were rumours that he had used public funds to build Houghton Hall and create his picture collection.
He fell from grace in 1642, taking a title as the Earl of Orford. He moved the pictures to Houghton, where he had little enough time to enjoy them. When he died in 1745 he was found to have debts amounting to ver £40,000, mostly to one banker.
The debts were crippling and neither his heir, Horace’s elder brother, nor grandson made substantial inroads into it. A new book to accompany the exhibition, A Capital Collection, edited by Larissa Dukelskaya and Andrew Moore, reveals that in 1759 Horace begged his nephew to save Houghton by selling the pictures at a time when the market was at its highest, but the third earl, preoccupied with breeding and racing greyhounds, took no action for almost another 20 years.
Later, during breaks in bouts of madness in the late 1770s, Orford negotiated secretly with James Christie, the founder of the auction house, and the Russian ambassador. The price agreed was almost exactly the same as Sir Robert’s debt.
“It was sad but, honestly, I don’t think he had any choice – it was the pictures or Houghton” said Lord Cholmondeley “and in a way it was a godsend that they were sold. A few years later there was a terrible fire in that part of the house which would have destroyed the paintings completely”.
Horace inherited the title and house, but on his death the title died and the hall passed to the family of Sir Robert’s daughter who had married a Cholmondely.
The present marquess has restored the gallery where the pictures one hung and is gradually replacing them, one of his most recent prizes being an Artemisia Gentileschi, Samson and Delilah. Earlier this year agreement was reached with the Victoria and Albert Museum to take possession of some of the finest furniture in situ and maintain it. “We can’t possibly hope to emulate Sir Robert’s collection but we are returning Houghton Hall to some of the glory these great pictures were part of” he said.
Passion and Politics: Masterpieces from the Walpole Collection from the Hermitage Museum is at the Hermitage Rooms, Somerset House, from September 28 to February 23. A Capital Collection by Andrew Moore and Larissa Dukeslkaya is published by Yale University Press, price £50.