Lifting the Spirit

By Glazebrook, Mark | The Spectator, October 27, 2007 | Go to article overview

Lifting the Spirit


Glazebrook, Mark, The Spectator


Richard Meier : Art and Architecture

Louise T. Blouin Institute, until 30 December

Olaf Street sounds as though it should be in some Scandinavian city or other.

No doubt there's a street so named in several Norwegian towns, but there is also an Olaf Street in London W11, of mysterious origin.

Could King Olaf II of Norway, fresh from asserting his suzerainty in the Orkneys, have decided to celebrate by keeping an English mistress in what was to become West Kensington a thousand years later? For those who can't always afford taxis it's an area which is now served, if somewhat erratically, by Latimer Road Underground Station and the 295 bus; but, whatever its beginnings, Olaf Street, London W11 is still off the beaten track and it's a very surprising place in which to come across a large and exceptionally elegant modern art gallery. This gallery, sensitively transformed from a yellow- and red-brick coachworks, is part of the Louise T.

Blouin Foundation and Institute. Within it, lectures on weighty subjects are held.

There are many strange aspects about this location. It's not in Notting Hill, nor is it in Shepherds Bush exactly. It's in a sort of noman's-land between the two. A street sign proclaims that Olaf Street is in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea but an application on a lamp post for the Louise T. Blouin Institute to hold parties and stay open after midnight indicates that the very same street belongs to Hammersmith and Fulham. It's not until after dark that a more transcendent truth becomes manifest. At night, a permanent 'lightwork' by the Los Angeles-born artist James Turrell transforms this remarkable creation of Louise T. Blouin McBain -- the partially New York-based, jet-setting French-Canadian mover, shaker, socialite, philanthropist and art-magazine owner -- into a very bravely located cultural outpost of North America.

A year ago a James Turrell show marked the opening of this unusual Institute. Now is also a good time to visit. Turrell's aesthetic themes of space and light are continued in the current exhibition devoted to the work of Richard Meier, the architect who is famous in America above all, perhaps, for his gigantic multimillion-dollar Getty Center in Los Angeles, which opened in December 1997.

The Getty Center, built on a high chaparral in the Santa Monica Hills, has even been compared by Jonathan Glancey of the Guardian to the Emperor Hadrian's sprawling Villa at Tivoli in the Sabine Hills east of Rome. The Getty Center houses the paintings and other works originally bought for the Getty Museum in Malibu. Since the Malibu building (which now concentrates on Greek and Roman antiquities) was based on ancient floor plans and designs for villas in Pompeii and Herculaneum, it's safe to call it either Pre-Modern or Post-Modernist. In contrast, the architecture of Meier is, in a nutshell, Modernist. The architecture, however, is only half the story of this show.

Meier is understandably more eclectic than the first generation of Modernists, and he has expressed interest not only in the modern greats but also in the Baroque era and in the whole history of architecture. He is passionately keen on what he calls 'the colour white'. Even when he uses stone or wood these materials tend to come as close as may be to being white, too. In photographs of Meier's work, however, you can see daytime patches of pure blue sky peeping and shining through glass or through empty spaces framed by stone or metal. At night, in contrast, thoughtfully lit interiors, seen through large expanses of glass, look attractively orange from the outside. …

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