If we are to believe Dante, love moves the sun and the stars (“l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle”); Sappho compared it to a mountain wind, and Aristotle believed it came about when a single soul inhabits two bodies, but back in the real world I was more inclined to go with songs like “Let’s Spend the Night Together” (the Rolling Stones, double A-side with “Ruby Tuesday,” 1967), or “Somebody to Love” (the Great Society, 1966; Jefferson Airplane, 1967). It was sex that mattered to my fifteen-year-old self, even if I tended to gloss it as love. I persuaded myself that I was in love, on average, about five or six times a week—with my mother’s friend Beryl, say, or the Pinta Girl, or the actress who played Doctor Who’s assistant, Zoe; but love, in any scenario I dared to imagine, was mostly just code for desire. Mostly. The one drawback was that my ideas about such things had been formed by radio—my mother’s radio, in fact, which, for the first twelve years of my life, was permanently tuned to the unending sentimental education provided by Pick of the Pops and Sing Something Simple on the BBC Light Programme. Here, sex was rarely, if ever, mentioned. It was always love.
Listening to the radio wasn’t a lifestyle choice. It was a declaration of loyalty. The TV sat in what we had recently started calling “the lounge,” and was used mostly by my father; my mother spent very little time in that room, at least when he was at home. She would clean it, and keep it tidy and, in the winter, she would get up at six and make a fire, but her true domain was still the kitchen, where she lived like a ghost from the 1950s with what she still called “the wireless”—and, because everything that was real in our lives happened in the kitchen, it was radio that provided the white noise and the soundtrack to my daily round, a constant wash of mostly vintage love songs, all never let me go and you belong to me and, worst of all, I don’t have anything, since I don’t have you . . My mother knew most of them by heart: “You’re All the World to Me”; “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (the Perry Como version, not Elvis); “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.”
At that age, I didn’t know that she was hanging on to a fantasy that she couldn’t do without, a fantasy, not that the many-splendored love her marriage so clearly lacked existed out there somewhere, but that, underneath it all, behind all the fights about money and the tears and the abuse, she and my father still loved one another as they had in the beginning (a time she never spoke about, oddly enough, though he would, when the mood was on him: how they met, the presents he brought back from his RAF postings, their honeymoon in Aberdeen, of all places). In extremis, he would even grow maudlin about it all, declaring that he’d never loved any woman but her, though he’d had every chance back in his RAF days, and even now, the women down at the club were throwing themselves at him. Those sentimental nights provided us kids with a sorry spectacle that my mother never stayed up to see, yet in spite of all this, in spite of the fact that she had every reason to feel bitter, or to have dismissed the whole many-splendored thing long ago, she could still be brought to a halt, in the middle of cooking, or a Saturday baking session, by some old favorite with lyrics that, in any explicable world, would have stuck in her craw. She would stand by a window, or over the cooker, ladle poised above the split-pea soup, singing along—she had a thin, but oddly sweet voice—and it didn’t matter if I rolled my eyes, she just went on singing, a true believer, if not on the workaday level, then at least in the abstract.
On the one hand, the impulse to mock this nonsense was both natural and pressing—and yet, at the same time, there was a sense that something real was concealed behind it all, something that, if it were allowed to sour, would leave a gap, not just in my mother’s, but in all our lives, an emptiness that nothing else could possibly fill. Where we lived, everything was cooked in lard, white pudding was a Saturday-night treat, the men all smoked 80 a day and drank themselves into oblivion every chance they got, but the real killer, the thing that truly sapped your strength, like a leech sapping the blood from your heart, was disappointment (synonyms: failure, defeat, frustration), a word whose etymology—from Middle French desapointer, “to undo an appointment, to remove from office”—barely hints at its destructive power, but, given a moment’s further analysis, does express something of the pain of workaday defeat that people in that world endured. If a soppy love song could ease that sense of defeat for a while, who was I to mock? The fact that, on occasion, during my clever-clogs years, I did mock now shames me more than I can say.
The older I get, the happier my childhood becomes. I still know about the times when my father got drunk and came home covered in blood (“bleeding like a sheep,” he’d say, beglamored by the reek and the heat of it), the nights when I had to climb out of the window to escape his drunken rages, the hours of waiting, wondering where he was, and whether he’d spent all the money: I know this, but I don’t feel it now the way I feel those Saturday afternoons in our various kitchens, the table or fitted counter sheeted in flour and three trays of fairy cakes in the oven, the back door open to let out the steam, blackbirds singing in the neighbor’s lilac tree and Andy Williams on the radio singing “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.” On the radio, love was a many-splendored thing, but the marriages I was privy to seemed more like war zones.
I don’t want to suggest that matrimony was necessarily a tragic affair—some of our neighbors’ marriages seemed quite functional, if somewhat routine; nevertheless, in the workaday world, it is wedlock that is most likely to offer the occasion for life-threatening disappointment. Wedlock, or parenthood—and, when it’s not caused by poverty or ill-health, most of the misery inflicted by parents is a result of their marital unhappiness. Growing up, I blamed my father for everything, overlooking his very obvious wretchedness, and it wasn’t until much later that I began to wonder what wedlock had cost him, married as he was to a dutiful and sexually repressed Catholic of a certain class and generation. I cannot rule out the idea, now, that he could have been a painfully frustrated sensualist, a husband cheated of what might have been the only means he had to express his love; his passions, his inner boy’s desire for joy and sex curdling into violent frustration. That frustration might not have been the sole cause of his drinking and gambling, but it’s not very surprising that he should take refuge in the sins he knew to escape the shameful and ugly desires that had once seemed the most natural thing in the world (within marriage, of course). Wherever my father ended up in his mind or in his spirit, it may be that, to begin with, the poor man just wanted to play. Maybe they both did, but they couldn’t quite elude the stare of the little yellow-eyed, jaundiced god that had been implanted at the back of their minds. I remember, once, much later, I found a stack of dirty magazines hidden in his wardrobe while I was searching for a tie to borrow and he came in just as I picked up a copy of Knave from the top of the pile.
He didn’t say anything then, he just turned round and went back downstairs to the 3.15 at Chepstow or whatever, but that evening, in the Hazel Tree, where we used to go to play crib, father and son together, he told me quietly not to take any notice, he never read that stuff, it was just something a mate from work had passed on. For a moment there, it all seemed to balance out: they had both been cheated, not just by the class system, as such, but also by the sexless, loveless moral apparatus that, as I grew up, I increasingly came to think of as societal, an apparatus that existed for no other reason than to stifle in its subjects any sensual pleasure and any kind of sex, other than the plastic-fantastic couplings of porn, or the bowdlerised, abstract crooning of Tin Pan Alley.
No surprise, then, that, as we took the floor at the Catholic Club disco or the end-of-term dance, we didn’t hear any songs that talked about the slow attrition of mistaken commitment. Songs where the heart resembles nothing so much as a knob of lard tossed into a skillet and skittering around on the hot steel, squeaking and fizzing as it gradually diminishes to nothing. That was what everlasting love meant to me, before I even got on to the dance floor. It was a pose, an attitude—and I wanted nothing to do with it. Fat chance of that.
Sometimes, though only in my most unguarded moments, I can still think of Annette Winters as my first love. At 15, she was tall, slender, very dark, an intelligent, sly girl possessed of what I think of now, though I didn’t think of then, as a kind of debatable beauty. She refused to be pretty in the ordinary sense that made girls attractive in our neck of the woods, but the main thing that drew me to her was that she did what she wanted, come hell or high water, and that was rare. In the town where we grew up, the will of girls and women was continually sapped, from cradle to crone, boyfriends and husbands taking over where parents left off, but so far Annette had come through with all her faculties intact. Maybe it wasn’t love so much as admiration that drew me to her, but I was drawn—and there were times when she was drawn to me, too, though if what happened between us could even be described as a relationship, it was very much of the on-off variety. When it was on, we spent hours lying around on my bed or her parents’ floor transforming endless foreplay into a form of torture (there being no after to this fore, so to speak; Annette was, after all, a good Catholic girl); when it was off, it was because she had suddenly remembered that I wasn’t her type.
Not being her type included a wide variety of faults, from having light brown hair to being “bookish,” features that I thought neither here nor there. In fact, the whole “type” thing was just so much nonsense, in my enlightened 15-year-old view. It might have been interesting at another level, where it really told you something about a person. For example: is your type the pretty, loyal “secretary” who is always in the background in old American detective movies, or the mysterious, but slightly too existential woman who turns up in his office unannounced and will, almost inevitably, betray him in the final reel? Though, come to think of it, that doesn’t help much either: I usually fell for the hat-check girl you see in passing when the detective drops by the fat man’s nightclub to give him the once-over, or maybe the femme fatale’s younger sister, excluded from the grown-up stuff and left to sulk by the pool in her swimsuit or her immaculate tennis whites. Whenever Annette went off on one of her not-my-type deals, I would sit in the town library compiling questionnaires like the ones that used to appear in newspapers and women’s magazines.
What’s Your Type?
Answer these ten questions to find out if the girl you’re with is really the one for you ...
1. You are invited to meet one cast member from Pal Joey. Who do you choose? Is it:
a) Rita Hayworth? b) Kim Novak? c) Frank Sinatra?
2. The girl you’re with has a new hobby. Is it:
a) Playing the piano b) Hill-walking c) Ikebana
It’s pitiful, the depths to which we sink when abandoned. At 15, I didn’t know much about much, but I did know that the one thing worse than endless foreplay is no foreplay at all.
We had all seen enough of our parents’ lives to feel that marriage was a trap constructed, not by women and girls, but by “The System,” to keep us in order. That was the term we used as a kind of shorthand for a job at the Works and your name on the housing list and the ubiquitous conspiracy against human wildness. The pleasures of married life weren’t too visible in Corby in the early 1970s and, even if you weren’t the political type, it was clear that marriage tied people to a life that suited the bosses. The joy of being a parent wasn’t much in evidence either: what kids saw, growing up, was the worry, the strain, the sad business of not having enough money for the televised Christmas ideal, and the shame of not being able to say so. But there was one difference between boys and girls on that score: if he is paying attention, the boy has a chance at a kind of negative freedom, because he has not been trained since infancy to believe, as the girl has, that wedlock and the workaday are not just the norm, but as close to the ideal as can be expected. For as long as he could hold out, any boy might still have a few years of relative freedom.
It was luck and nothing else that kept me from falling into the trap. Luck, in the form of Annette Winters’s notion that there was such a thing as her type, and that I was not it. I might have been growing into a cliché boy’s own world where the basic premises were a) have sex with as many attractive girls as possible—by attractive, I mean not attractive to oneself, necessarily, but attractive in the eyes of others—and b) keep moving so you don’t get trapped—but I don’t want to suggest that there was anything cold or cynical about all this.
More of us actually liked the girls we knew than were prepared to admit it, but we only had to look around to know that, whatever we thought or felt when we were alone, romantic love—disco love—as constructed by the movies and TV and pop songs, was a carefully baited trap, intended to lock us for life into a routine of drudge labour and joyless domesticity, with nothing to take refuge in but alcohol and “the football.” This wasn’t about “fear of commitment” (that cliché); it was about common sense. We had not forgotten that the word “commitment” can be used in two, by no means contradictory, senses: i) being prepared to engage fully in a (disco) relationship, and ii) being contained in a psychiatric medical facility. We had to cram what living we wanted into a few good years, because work was a life sentence and marriage was a lifelong battle with someone terminally conditioned for nest-building and social propriety—and the biggest irony of all was that the pleasure part, the sex part, the exquisite play that got you into all that hassle in the first place started to evaporate the moment you carried your bride over the threshold.
So, when people wonder why boys want to stay boys and never grow up, as if there really were some difficulty to that particular question, I find it embarrassing, because the answer is obvious. A boy gets to play; a man doesn’t, at least not officially. A man is obliged to act out the part scripted for him, all the while pretending that there’s something genuinely fulfilling in being promoted to Deputy Sales Manager or being chosen as Employee of the Month by other men who, while not visibly smarter or more able than him, get paid a whole lot more.
Men are police officers, husbands, company directors; men work in middle management and fret about sex and their position on that supposedly recreational squash ladder. Men lay down the law and take up arms. Men, to the boy I was, were dull, neuter, slightly stale when you got up close and infinitely tedious. The burdens they carried with such absurd solemnity seemed to me entirely fictitious and the presumption of authority that defined them to a standstill was utterly alien to how I imagined a just world to be, alien and pointless, and painstakingly justified, for each individual man, by a self-perpetuating system of titles and obligations that were unfailingly referred to as “the real world.”
So there we were: trapped. Boys in striped shirts and basketball shoes listening to Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Doors in our bedrooms, knowing it couldn’t last. Boys smoking dope on the patch of waste ground behind the garages; boys fiddling with hooks and zips in front rooms and parked cars; boys going out alone in the cool of a summer’s dawn to swim on that stretch of river only they know. Men in waiting, all, tagged with the sorrow of knowing pretty well what is to come and not wanting any part of it. Manhood is what the boy wants to avoid, as he grows into the mould, but he doesn’t know how, other than by continuing to be a boy. Moving on, every time love turns from serious to solemn. Deferring that dread moment when it comes time to settle down and open a savings account, putting a little by every year till he’s got enough to make the down payment on a house that looks just like every other jerry-built house on the estate. Laughing at the disco love lyrics on the radio and Top of the Pops.
What would real success look like, for a boy who chose not to be that kind of a man, but grew at his own pace into the creature he could have been, had his future not been decided for him years ago? The boy’s only answer is a desperate one, a beginner’s guide to clutching at straws, but it’s all he has and what it mostly consists of is refusal. Pyrrhic and half-imagined as it is, his only victory is to let go and move on, for as long as he can, as decently as he can, for the thrill of that first meeting and the dark pleasure of the goodbye that keeps the heart in play, no gods above, no larks, no love song finer, only the drama that staying cannot confer, the exquisite and inevitable affirmation of every time we say goodbye.
All this might be a little crude, but I don’t think it misrepresents the way my generation and class of boys thought and behaved, except in one key detail: that is, the question of “whatever we thought or felt when we were alone.” I know that, in my case, the drive to have sex and move on was based on a fear that, in all probability, quite a few of my classmates shared: the fear, not so much of The System as of my own profoundly romantic male nature.
It took me a long time to work it out, and even longer to acknowledge it, but, looking back, I see that my teen self, contrary to appearances, had, in fact, been converted by my mother’s radio into a hopeless romantic—and for all I know, if Annette Winters hadn’t been so finicky about who might or might not have been her type, I could be married to her now, and wondering how in God’s name I’d got myself tangled up in that particular mess. According to Oscar Wilde, “marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence”; the trouble was, if you lived in a two-up two-down council house in Corby New Town, keeping a marriage alive took more imagination than most people could spare—and if any of us had been possessed of even the most basic intelligence, we would have seen right away that, in a society that worked so hard to keep us from loving, or even liking, ourselves, expecting us to love somebody else—not a type, but an actual person—was a bit much to ask.
Original Spanish edition of Julio Cortázar, 62: A Model Kit
Sandrine Bonnaire in 1986
In his live commentary of the Spain versus Tunisia match, Montes used the phrase to describe Spain’s precise, elegant passing style: “Estamos tocando tiki-taka tiki-taka.“ The phrase’s origin may be onomatopoeic (alluding to the quick, short distance “tick” passing of the ball between players) or derived from a juggling toy named tiki-taka in Spanish (clackers in English).
The attack conducted by units of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on the city of Nablus in April 2002 was described by its commander, Brigadier-General Aviv Kokhavi, as ‘inverse geometry’, which he explained as ‘the reorganization of the urban syntax by means of a series of micro-tactical actions’.1 During the battle soldiers moved within the city across hundreds of metres of ‘overground tunnels’ carved out through a dense and contiguous urban structure. Although several thousand soldiers and Palestinian guerrillas were manoeuvring simultaneously in the city, they were so ‘saturated’ into the urban fabric that very few would have been visible from the air. Furthermore, they used none of the city’s streets, roads, alleys or courtyards, or any of the external doors, internal stairwells and windows, but moved horizontally through walls and vertically through holes blasted in ceilings and floors. This form of movement, described by the military as ‘infestation’, seeks to redefine inside as outside, and domestic interiors as thoroughfares. The IDF’s strategy of ‘walking through walls’ involves a conception of the city as not just the site but also the very medium of warfare – a flexible, almost liquid medium that is forever contingent and in flux.
Contemporary military theorists are now busy re-conceptualizing the urban domain. At stake are the underlying concepts, assumptions and principles that determine military strategies and tactics. The vast intellectual field that geographer Stephen Graham has called an international ‘shadow world’ of military urban research institutes and training centres that have been established to rethink military operations in cities could be understood as somewhat similar to the international matrix of élite architectural academies. However, according to urban theorist Simon Marvin, the military-architectural ‘shadow world’ is currently generating more intense and well-funded urban research programmes than all these university programmes put together, and is certainly aware of the avant-garde urban research conducted in architectural institutions, especially as regards Third World and African cities. There is a considerable overlap among the theoretical texts considered essential by military academies and architectural schools. Indeed, the reading lists of contemporary military institutions include works from around 1968 (with a special emphasis on the writings of Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari and Guy Debord), as well as more contemporary writings on urbanism, psychology, cybernetics, post-colonial and post-Structuralist theory. If, as some writers claim, the space for criticality has withered away in late 20th-century capitalist culture, it seems now to have found a place to flourish in the military.
I conducted an interview with Kokhavi, commander of the Paratrooper Brigade, who at 42 is considered one of the most promising young officers of the IDF (and was the commander of the operation for the evacuation of settlements in the Gaza Strip).2 Like many career officers, he had taken time out from the military to earn a university degree; although he originally intended to study architecture, he ended up with a degree in philosophy from the Hebrew University. When he explained to me the principle that guided the battle in Nablus, what was interesting for me was not so much the description of the action itself as the way he conceived its articulation. He said: ‘this space that you look at, this room that you look at, is nothing but your interpretation of it. […] The question is how do you interpret the alley? […] We interpreted the alley as a place forbidden to walk through and the door as a place forbidden to pass through, and the window as a place forbidden to look through, because a weapon awaits us in the alley, and a booby trap awaits us behind the doors. This is because the enemy interprets space in a traditional, classical manner, and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his traps. […] I want to surprise him! This is the essence of war. I need to win […] This is why that we opted for the methodology of moving through walls. . . . Like a worm that eats its way forward, emerging at points and then disappearing. […] I said to my troops, “Friends! […] If until now you were used to move along roads and sidewalks, forget it! From now on we all walk through walls!”’2 Kokhavi’s intention in the battle was to enter the city in order to kill members of the Palestinian resistance and then get out. The horrific frankness of these objectives, as recounted to me by Shimon Naveh, Kokhavi’s instructor, is part of a general Israeli policy that seeks to disrupt Palestinian resistance on political as well as military levels through targeted assassinations from both air and ground.
If you still believe, as the IDF would like you to, that moving through walls is a relatively gentle form of warfare, the following description of the sequence of events might change your mind. To begin with, soldiers assemble behind the wall and then, using explosives, drills or hammers, they break a hole large enough to pass through. Stun grenades are then sometimes thrown, or a few random shots fired into what is usually a private living-room occupied by unsuspecting civilians. When the soldiers have passed through the wall, the occupants are locked inside one of the rooms, where they are made to remain – sometimes for several days – until the operation is concluded, often without water, toilet, food or medicine. Civilians in Palestine, as in Iraq, have experienced the unexpected penetration of war into the private domain of the home as the most profound form of trauma and humiliation. A Palestinian woman identified only as Aisha, interviewed by a journalist for the Palestine Monitor, described the experience: ‘Imagine it – you’re sitting in your living-room, which you know so well; this is the room where the family watches television together after the evening meal, and suddenly that wall disappears with a deafening roar, the room fills with dust and debris, and through the wall pours one soldier after the other, screaming orders. You have no idea if they’re after you, if they’ve come to take over your home, or if your house just lies on their route to somewhere else. The children are screaming, panicking. Is it possible to even begin to imagine the horror experienced by a five-year-old child as four, six, eight, 12 soldiers, their faces painted black, sub-machine-guns pointed everywhere, antennas protruding from their backpacks, making them look like giant alien bugs, blast their way through that wall?’3
Diego Maradona marked by six in the 1982 World Cup.
‘Portrait of Lord Clark as a young boy’ by Charles Sims (c.1911).
In part ten of Civilisation, Kenneth Clark turned his attention to the Enlightenment, the age of the great amateurs. These were men ‘rich and independent enough to do what they liked’, who nevertheless did things which required considerable ability, men like Lord Burlington, the architect earl. A connoisseur, an ‘arbiter of taste’, Clark explained, ‘the sort of character who these days is much despised’. The same might be said of him, as the slight smile suggested.
Civilisation, broadcast in 1969, had been filmed over the previous three years. Clark and his crew had found themselves in Paris in May 1968 in the thick of the événements. His producer, Michael Gill, recalls ‘riot police … just off-camera’, adding, laconically: ‘I was gassed.’
Despite being so apparently out of sympathy with the temper of ‘these days’, Civilisation was hugely popular. Now, when even more of what Clark stood for – connoisseurship, private patronage, direct state patronage and the life of the country house – has disappeared or is disapproved of, the Tate’s richly thoughtful exhibition Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation (until 10 August) is another unlikely success. Though he was one of the most scholarly and intellectually flexible of art historians, Clark remained committed to the idea of aesthetic pleasure. Certain combinations of words, sounds and forms were his ‘chief joy and comfort’, and the sense of enjoyment is allowed full play. The first impression is of beauty and variety, from small Bow porcelain busts to drawings by Cézanne, all pieces Clark owned, commissioned or promoted. But an exhibition which has as its subject a single person who was not an artist must create its own structure and argument. A broadly biographical arrangement sweeps, as did Clark’s career, through the heart of the 20th century.
Born in 1903, the only child of wealthy parents, he first appears aged seven in a portrait by John Lavery. Solemn in white shorts, broad-brimmed hat in hand, he stands in a darkly panelled interior, a glint of sunlight on the ormolu of the clock behind. The comfortable house, the endless summer outside, it is the Edwardian childhood idyll. Clark’s claim in his notoriously unreliable autobiography that his family belonged to the idle rich and that while many were richer ‘few were more idle’ is belied by the sprinkling of works from his father’s collection. Landseer, Lavery, Charles Sims suggest that Clark began life against a background of unadventurous but serious taste in painting.
He himself was omnivorous. Japanese prints, Aubrey Beardsley and the works of Ruskin were among his early and enduring enthusiasms. Like many only children he was at ease with his parents’ generation, and his first mentors, Roger Fry and Bernard Berenson, were both forty years older than him. ‘Roger made one feel far cleverer than one was,’ Clark reflected: ‘Mr Berenson made one feel far stupider.’ From Fry he took a belief in ‘pure aesthetic sensation’ and a love of Cézanne. The exhibition includes some of the drawings he bought in France in 1933 for ‘much less than a modest motor car’; a watercolour of the back of a chair, the crumpled cloth on the seat a landscape in itself; a sheet of heads of Cézanne’s son asleep. From Berenson he learned connoisseurship, the ‘gentleman’s sport’ of attribution.
It was in 1928 that what he later called the Great Clark Boom began, with an invitation to catalogue the Leonardo drawings in the Royal Collection. From then on he was a permanent presence at the heart of the national cultural life. At thirty he became director of the National Gallery, where he caused a stir by hanging Cézanne’s Montagne Sainte-Victoire next to Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère. His first book, another product of 1928, was on a quite different subject. The Gothic Revival discussed architecture that was almost universally thought ridiculous, a collection of ‘unsightly wrecks stranded upon the mudflat of Victorian taste’. Clark’s argument for considering it was that while ‘beauty is a historical document … a historical document is not necessarily beautiful.’ It was an intellectual manifesto that brought Fry’s aesthetics together with Berenson’s connoisseurship and the ‘geists’ of German art theory, with which, once the Warburg Institute was established in London in 1934, Clark was to remain closely connected. He changed his mind about Victorian Gothic, realising ‘almost too late’ that it had produced some great architecture. Yet the underlying question about taste and aesthetics that had prompted the inquiry remained: why ‘at certain times the average man can only look with pleasure at things of a certain shape and character’ was a conundrum to be profitably revolved for the rest of his life.
At the National Gallery during the war he compensated for the absence of the main collection, safely stowed in a disused slate mine near Blaenau Ffestiniog, by making it the venue for new work produced under the auspices of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, of which he was chairman. It was impossible, he said, ‘to paint great events without making use of allegory’ and the new allegories – John Piper’s firelit Coventry Cathedral, Henry Moore’s shelter dwellers and Paul Nash’s Battle of Britain – were shown alongside same-size photographs of absent Gainsboroughs and Uccellos.
Clark’s collecting and his patronage brought together objects of ‘a shape and character’ that still please. They also surprise by juxtaposition or selection, the broad comedy of Rowlandson, the tiny, fantastical detail of Robin Ironside and the receding golds and greens of an un-obvious Seurat, The Forest at Pontaubert. His preferences trace a line through English art from Gainsborough to Lucian Freud, making a rather pointed detour round the Pre-Raphaelites but spending arguably too long in what he himself called the ‘virtuous fog’ of Bloomsbury, represented here by an Omega dinner service intended to celebrate famous women, badly painted in lugubrious hues by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. The essence of what he believed, that art is ‘a long word which stretches from millinery to religion’, is captured in an unfinished portrait of Marie Countess of Schaumburg-Lippe by Joshua Reynolds. The face has been completed. Lost in intelligent thought, she looks just past the viewer’s eye. The rest is only blocked in except for an exquisite silver bow on the bodice. That Reynolds finished this himself before handing it over to his assistants suggests he thought it as important as the face and it makes the picture. The contrast of bright artifice with delicate flesh enhances both: the ornament, which is all surface, gives the portrait its depth.
After the war Clark became chairman of the newly established Arts Council and an enthusiastic broadcaster. By the time he made Civilisation he was presenting ideas he had developed, refined and defended over half a century, but the result is fresh. He has a better suit and worse teeth than can be seen on presenters today, but he neither patronises nor ingratiates. His firmly listed likes and even firmer dislikes – ‘lies, tanks, tear-gas, ideologies, opinion polls’, sociologists and the ‘rigidly controlled classification’ of academic specialism – make him a recognisable precursor of Jonathan Meades rather than Simon Schama. As the BBC contemplates remaking Civilisation, the exhibition shows what a hard act Clark still is to follow.
Rachel Comey in Rachel Comey outside the Rachel Comey store on
Comey Crosby Street. Photograph by Victoria Will.