Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Sneaky Peak: John Stefanidis. An Island Sanctuary

In John Stefanidis’ fourth book we finally get that personal tour around his Greek retreat which we’ve all been waiting for. This book does for his Patmos house what Living by Design (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1997) did for his Dorset home, Cock Crow.

Fabulous photographs explore each room and then lead the reader out onto the terrace, through the olive groves and into the deep blue Aegean Sea. Stefanidis’ decorative hand is evident on every surface and multi-cultural objects from across the globe have been lovingly assembled to create the most wonderful interiors.

At the heart of the design is a deep-set love of the island. It is a space that has been moulded over time by its milieu, with the gentle genius touch of John Stefanidis.

The book is due out next month

(An Island Sanctuary. A House in Greece, by John Stefanidis, text by Susanna Moore, photographs by Fritz von der Schulenberg, Rizzoli, New York, 2010)

Friday, 12 February 2010

Lobster Sallad & Champagne

 Portrait of Lord Byron in the dress of an Albanian, 1814, Thomas Phillips.

‘a woman should never be seen eating or drinking, unless it be lobster sallad & Champagne, the only truly feminine & becoming viands.’

So said Lord Byron in a letter addressed to Lady Melbourne in reference to his fastidious dislike of seeing the fairer sex eating. One of the marvellous snippets of Byron’s psychology examined in Fiona MacCarthy’s definitive biography Byron. Life and Legend.
(Fiona MacCarthy, John Murray, London, 2002)

He wasn’t alone. Madame de Pompadour is reported to have exclaimed ‘The wine of Champagne is the only one that makes women beautiful after drinking.’. This quote is one of many touched upon in Steidl’s sparkling tome I am Drinking Stars! A History of a Champagne, an artistic, social and literary history of over 400 years of Dom Pérignon. As well as providing a history of the revered fizz, the book references personalities, artists and writers affected by its charms – Louis XV, Boucher, Swift, Marilyn Monroe, Karl Lagerfeld and many more.
(edited by Gerhard Steidl, Steidl, Göttingen, 2009)

Portrait of Samuel Johnson, 1873, Johnson, Wilson & Company, New York

But my favourite champagne quote comes from the prolific man-of-letters Samuel Johnson - ‘The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love, like being enlivened with champagne.’

No more persuasion is needed. This weekend I will be consuming Champagne for breakfast, lunch and tea.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

L'Homme qui marche

L'Homme qui marche I - photo Sothebys

The record-breaking sale of Alberto Giacometti’s L’Homme qui marche I (1961) for £65,001,250 at Sotheby’s has put the spring back into the step of those auctioneers on Bond Street. It is the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction. In the immediate aftermath of the sale there has been the inevitable slew of column-inches devoted to the question of “is it worth it?”. The rarity of a large, life-time cast, Giacometti sculpture on the market does push the price up, but the artistic value and importance of this work in the history of twentieth-century art is undeniable.

Made at the peak of Giacometti’s career the life-size figure is a perfect example of the artist’s existential interest in the human form captured in motion - a being frozen in time – humanity pared down to its essentials. It poses questions that are perpetually relevant.

I had my Giacometti moment last Summer in Venice at the richly curated exhibition In-finitum. Held in the Palazzo Fortuny (home and studio, and now museum of Mariano Fortuny) In-Finitum was the last in a trilogy of exhibitions put together by the Vervoordt Foundation, an art foundation formed by the great Belgian decorator Axel Vervoordt. The show had as its theme the question of the infinite and hosted 300 objects including incomplete antiquities, unfinished old masters and contemporary works that capture infinity. The Palazzo, with its faded grandeur and echoes of the textile machines, was the perfect location for the show, housing its own ghosts and hints of past, unknown lives. Vervoordt lent his interior design expertise to the show, playing with the exposed surfaces of the decaying building and the complicated mixture of light and shadow within the space. An intelligent reply to the white cube of contemporary galleries.

After the first floor display of contemporary exhibits that confounded and surprised I climbed the wooden staircase to the second floor and emerged into a small room. The room had bare brick walls, exposed floor boards and a heavily leaded window. Through the window streamed a watery Venetian sun. It lit, in silhouette, a Giacometti standing figure. Thrown back against the wall was the shadow of the statue, creating a double image of a man. It was haunting and beautiful and has stayed with me ever since.

The catalogue In-Finitum (Axel Vervoordt, MER Paper Kunsthalle, Ghent, 2009) has been put together with the same attention to detail as the show. Printed on soft matt paper with exquisite shots of exhibits it is a cut above the average exhibition catalogue. It features essays by Giandomenico Romanelli, artistic director of the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia; Francesco Poli, professor at the University of Turin and Milan, art critic and specialist of Arte Povera; Eddi De Wolf, physicist, researcher at the CERN in Geneva and professor at the University of Antwerp; Nico Van Hout, Doctor in art history who did research on the non-finito in art; Norbert Jocks, art critic and writer for Kunstforum and a conversation between Axel Vervoordt, president of the Vervoordt Foundation and the Japanese architect Tatsuro Miki. A weighty selection of writings that attempt to get to grips with the meaty question of infinity.

The benefit of having such a universal topic means that the breadth of works included and illustrated is unlimited. So there is art from Bonnard, Canova, Cezanne, de Chirico, Delacroix, Fontana, Fortuny, Judd, Kapoor, Miro, Picasso, Piranesi, Romney, Rothko, Sugimoto, Twombly and many more artists from antiquity to the present day.

And because the exhibition is one of a trilogy there are two previous catalogues that complete the set.

Artempo. Where Time becomes Art – an exhibition also held at the Palazzo Fortuny in 2007, which looked at the relationship between art and time.
(Axel Vervoordt, MER Paper Kunsthalle, Ghent, 2007)

Academia. Qui es-tu? – the middle show was held at the La Chapelle de l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris the following year and posed the question “who are you?”
(Axel Vervoordt, MER Paper Kunsthalle, Ghent, 2008)

The three books together offer a unique perspective on the world’s art. And with their tri-colour cloth spines they make a dashing addition to the discerning art library.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


‘There is only one thing I fear in life, my friend… One day the black will swallow the red.’
 So says Mark Rothko in John Logan’s absorbing new play Red at the Donmar Warehouse, London. After seeing the play last night my head has been filled today with thoughts on the power and significance of red. It is a colour that holds different connotations for each of us. For me, it is strength, decisiveness and confidence.
 Inspired by the power of red I give you some red reading:

Diana Vreeland, Living Room - Jeremiah Goodman

Jeremiah. A Romantic Vision begins and ends with a riot of red in the guise of endpapers featuring Jeremiah’s painting of Diana Vreeland’s Living Room (or 'Garden in Hell'). The room in Vreeland’s Park Avenue apartment was designed by Billy Baldwin and is red, red and red. A furnace of power, style and passion.
(Jeremiah Goodman, Powerhouse, New York, 2007)

Of course, the kings of red interiors were the Pompeians. Pompeii and the Roman Villa is a comprehensive account of the art and culture of the buried city, and includes many illustrations of the vermilion and ochre saturated frescoes which signified the power and importance of their owners.
(Carol C. Mattusch, Thames & Hudson, London, 2008)

Red was the political colour of Russia in the 20th century, but a more benign use of the colour was in many of the textiles manufactured in Russia and exported to Central Asia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Russian Textiles. Printed Cloth for the Bazaars of Central Asia reproduces many of these rich textiles, used for clothing and homeware. Anyone draped in these boldly patterned, frequently red textiles would have surely stood out in the crowd.
(Susan Meller, Abrams, New York, 2007)

For a historical and topographical overview of red and rest of the palette Colour. Travels through the Paintbox by Victoria Finlay (Hodder and Stoughton, London, 2002) is highly recommended.
 Now I think it’s time for that Bloody Mary, with lashings of bright red tomato juice!