Magazine article The Spectator

Diary: Edmund De Waal

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary: Edmund De Waal

Article excerpt

On the top landing of the Royal Academy is the Sackler Sculpture Corridor, a long stony shelf of torsos of gods, martial bodies, heads, a vast foot. At one end Michelangelo's Taddei Tondo is hidden behind slightly green glass. It is worth any pilgrimage. At the other end is a modest door into the print room and library. You walk into darkness and drama, steps running down past vast print chests and into a double-height library, lit from oculi above. This is where the marbles and plaster casts used to be housed. It was transformed into a library 25 years ago by H.T. Cadbury-Brown, the architect of the Royal College of Art, and shares with it a decisive sense of structure.

For a few months, until the new year, you can buy a ticket for a fiver and spend some silent time in these rooms. I've displaced a handful of volumes and gathered almost all my favourite white objects in the world. There are paintings by Morandi and Robert Ryman, photographs from Fox Talbot, a Romanesque corbel head, a teapot by Malevich, the porcelain palette of Turner, life masks and death masks of Royal Academicians, an ivory hare, an empty elephant folio. And a copy of Tristram Shandy , open at its white page too. My working title for this project was the nothing that is , a line from a Wallace Stevens poem, but it has ended up as white . Nothing is apparently not much of a draw for punters on Piccadilly. There are no captions in the show but you get given a beautiful pamphlet with drawings of everything. It takes a while to find things, but then libraries always demand time.

This library project opened last week on the same night that I launched my new book, a journey through the history of porcelain. Given that it is a passionate inquiry into why this white material has always had such a hold, I wanted it to be a quiet book. It has been designed by the graphic designer John Morgan, known among austere typographers for his austerity. I realise, now that I have it in my hands, that it looks like a prayer book. An Anglican childhood is hard to dislodge.

And then I go off to Yale University to spend a few days with eight other writers who been given the Windham Campbell Prize. We are gathered from South Africa, Nigeria, England, and listen to a speech by Hilton Als, theatre critic of the New Yorker , are dined in the Sterling Memorial Library, are celebrated. …

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