Magazine article The Spectator

Streak of Fantasy

Magazine article The Spectator

Streak of Fantasy

Article excerpt

On the way to see the Ensor exhibition, I dropped in to the British Museum to view the new Great Court. What a disheartening experience. The historic Reading Room has been ovally shrouded and cramped by an inferior design by a high-flying architect (the roof is OK, but how to clean it? While the cafe areas are just naff), and the brand-new portico is every bit as inappropriate-looking as we'd been led to believe. This echoing hangar has all the charm and gravitas of Liverpool Street Station. How sad it is to have to admit that one of our greatest institutions has been brought so low, but unfortunately we'll probably come to accept its shoddiness with time. Those responsible should hang their heads in shame. The British Museum proudly sports the logo `illuminating world cultures'. I wonder which marketing genius came up with that only partial misrepresentation.

Still on my way to the Ensor, I digressed to the gorgeously Dickens-sounding Haunch of Venison Yard, just off Brook Street, Wl. In a magnificently dilapidated building, which was once the home of Nelson, is an installation of Anselm Kiefer's very large paintings. It has to be said that they look extremely good in this unusual setting, though the vast sketch books are probably the most interesting things on show. The building has been leased by Anthony d'Offay, Kiefer's London dealer, and will be renovated by Norman Foster, mastermind of what I can only call the BM fiasco. I wish I could urge you to visit this show but unfortunately it will be over by the time this article appears. And then we can only wait until the building's rebirth as the Anthony d'Offay Gallery in a year or so's time, midwifed by the visionary but not always gentle-handed Foster. Fingers crossed.

A relief, then, to look in at the elegant first-floor premises of Faggionato Fine Arts, and discover a small but perfectly formed exhibition of works on paper by the Belgian James Ensor (1860-1949). What do we know of Ensor? Two facts that emerge from a swift reperusal of his biography are that his parents ran a souvenir shop and that in 1929 he was made a baron by his country for services to art. This proto-Surrealist lived most of his life in Ostend, beginning in the tradition of northern naturalism, but gradually infusing his art with a streak of fantasy which makes him at home in the company of Redon and Goya. …

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