Friday, 2 June 2017

a bohemian, a pavilion and a Swiss artist

The rain and thunder have driven me in from the garden, so I can write about yesterday's trip in more detail.  That's just as well, since otherwise today's blog would have been an account of turning the compost heap.

As I said, in an ideal world I would pace my pleasures and not make the trip up to town twice in a week.  How I ever managed to commute daily I have no idea, except that I was younger then and more energetic and so used to the grind I must have been anaesthetised to the pain.  In my ideal world I plan my cultural outings and meetings with friends so that they fall at nice, regular intervals, giving time in between for gardening and the necessary business of daily life.  But in practice other people's methods of managing their diaries don't always coincide with mine, and so I realised that pinning down an old school friend who is now a partner in a City law firm to supper on a particular evening three weeks in advance was a fairly hopeless case, and that when she asked if I was free tonight or tomorrow the correct answer if we wanted to actually see each other was Yes. So I swallowed my objections and made a return visit to the capital.

It meant that I ended up catching the exhibition of Vanessa Bell's art at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, which I was reconciled to having missed, since it finishes this coming Sunday.  I was set to go with a friend who is in the throes of trying to sell her house and had to cancel, so we rearranged and she had to cancel again.  I could have gone by myself, but had so much to do in the garden that I gave up and told myself that Vanessa Bell wasn't that good a painter anyway.  I am very glad I did go, because she was much better than I had given her credit for.  She was taught by John Singer Sergent and Walter Sickert, and Sickert said she was good.  She was not original in the way that Picasso and Matisse were original, and you can see their influence in her work, but she was still pretty good in a colourful, early twentieth century modern sort of way.  I'd have happily hung several of her portraits and some of the still lives on the wall at home and enjoyed looking at them every day.

New this year at Dulwich is a summer pavilion.  The Serpentine has had one for years, and now Dulwich has got one too.  It was designed by local architects to a tight budget (£59,000 plus VAT per The Times), and consists of two interlocking decks made out of the sort of boards you see in marinas, painted black, with a rectangular timber roof covered in what looks like the sort of corrugated acrylic sheet we've got on the conservatory roof and an aluminium mesh skirt all around it, and the internal space is divided by a series of slightly distorting mirrors.  The uprights supporting the mirrors and the roof are very slender, and the roof appears to hover airily above them, while the mirrors reflect the surrounding grass and trees and in the gaps between them you can see real grass and trees.  It is very charming, and I can imagine it being used for all sorts of parties and performances.

I should have bought my timed ticket to the Vanessa Bell exhibition before consuming my Pret lemonade and chocolate brownie while contemplating the pavilion, because I found I could not get admission for another hour, which gave me time to look at the permanent collection but put paid to my vague idea that I could go the Royal Academy afterwards and before meeting my school friend. Their exhibition of American art from the 1930s also finishes on Sunday, but one can't do everything.  Instead I went and drank tea in the new members' room and had a preliminary look at Giacometti at Tate Modern.  The exhibition has only just opened and is on until mid September, and I will definitely aim to go again over the summer, but the great beauty of being a supporter, even more than the members' room (which is pretty nice and used as an office by numerous freelancers, to judge from the earnest people sitting hunched over Apple laptops), is to be able to drop into exhibitions when you have a spare hour and not feel you have to take in everything because you are never going to see it again.

My school friend and I had a lot to catch up with after four years.  Since I last saw her she has qualified as a Lay Minister in the Church of England.  I should think she will be very good at it.

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