Magazine article The Spectator

Exhibitions: Kettle's Yard Reopens

Magazine article The Spectator

Exhibitions: Kettle's Yard Reopens

Article excerpt

When I first visited Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, I was shown around by Jim Ede, its founder and creator. This wasn't an unusual event in the 1970s. I was an undergraduate, and in those days Ede -- elderly, elegant and almost translucently ascetic -- showed round anyone who rang his doorbell. It was rather as if Henry Clay Frick had given you a tour of his pied-à-terre on Fifth Avenue, or Sir Richard Wallace walked you through his collection. Except, of course, that they wouldn't have done that -- and Kettle's Yard, as Ede (1895-1990) mused in a conversation with the artist John Goto, isn't really a collection, 'it's a number of things perhaps'.

In fact, it is much more than just a collection. Kettle's Yard, Cambridge -- which reopens this week after an £11 million extension and refurbishment -- is a unique combination of house, art gallery and what might now be called 'installation'. It contains some remarkable pictures and sculpture, but is also a work of art in itself -- a creation you can walk around and which feels like a private home.

Ede and his wife Helen lived in this place, made up of four old cottages, after they moved to Cambridge in the mid-1950s. Ede was already over 60 by then, with a distinguished career as a curator. One day in the 1920s, more or less the entire life's work of a half-forgotten sculptor named Henri Gaudier-Brzeska arrived in his office at the Tate Gallery. The nation didn't want to buy it, so he bought it himself. By the time he arrived in Cambridge, Ede had amassed many other works -- by his friend Ben Nicholson, Christopher Wood, the Cornish seaman Alfred Wallis particularly.

He set about arranging them in the rambling Cambridge house. The result, with its white walls, bare woodwork and ample light, has a good deal in common with the artists' houses of St Ives -- Patrick Heron's Eagles Nest, for example. But it is unique in its sense of harmony and stillness -- two words that Ede chose to describe what he was doing (the latter meaning 'to be attentive, to take in, to search' and also just to be there and know).

He made an arrangement in which every item has its place. The 76 spherical pebbles laid in a spiral on a round table near a downstairs window matter just as much as the small bronze sculpture by Brancusi resting on the piano upstairs. …

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