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Masterpiece London Preview 2016 + London Art Week

Here Come The Men in Red Coats 

Ferrari 250 GTO 1963 Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Almost 75 percent of Kensington and Chelsea is covered by conservation areas,” Rock Feilding-Mellen duly told us over dinner at Clarke’s Restaurant on Kensington Church Street. He’s Deputy Leader of the Borough. “We’re very very proud of our built environment and the legacy we have inherited. The Royal Borough is held in high esteem here and around the world.” Sir Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital Chelsea is one of the jewels in the prestigious Borough’s tiara. It’s fast becoming as renowned for an annual temporary replica in its grounds as the original 17th century quadrangular forerunner.

Riva Yacht Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Another year, another masterpiece. Another year, another Masterpiece. Only in its seventh year, whatever did we do before this gaping lacuna in the social calendar was filled? Mind you, the Victorians managed just one Great Exhibition. It’s time to mingle with the well addressed sort of people who live in a house with no number (we’ll allow Number One London or at a push One Kensington Gardens as exceptions). Hey big spenders: there are no pockets in shrouds. Superprimers at play. From the Occident to the Orient, Venice to Little Venice, Dalston Cumbria to Dalston Dalston, the Gael to the Pale, Sally Gap to Sally Park or Sallynoggin, Masterpiece is like living between inverted commas. Among this year’s prestigious sponsors are Sir John Soane’s Museum and The Wallace Collection. That familiar conundrum: Scott’s or Le Caprice? Best doing both. Home of tofu foam Sinabro would approve. It’s not like we’ve hit the skids ourselves, as they say. The choice of champagne is even less of a dilemma: it’s Claridge’s favourite Perrier-Jouët on (gold) tap.

Galerie Chenel Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Bantry House Siena Marble Tables, each spanning two metres, take pride of place at Ronald Phillips. This princely pair was purchased by the 2nd Earl of Bantry in the 1820s for the tapestry crammed entrance hall of his West Cork country house. The black marble supporting columns retain the original paint used to simulate the Siena marble tops. Thomas Lange of Ronald Phillips describes Siena marble as “the Rolls Royce of marbles”. Dating from George III times, they are priced £100,000 plus. Another Anglo Irish masterpiece is The Hamilton Tray. Commissioned by the 1st Marquess of Abercorn, this priceless piece of silver dates from 1791.

Bantry House Tables Ronald Phillips Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Jupiter @ Lampronti Gallery Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Matteo Pugliese Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Wallace Chan Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Steinitz Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Zaha Hadid Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Factum Foundation Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chiale Fine Art Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Symmetry and the art of the perpendicular abound in the Masterpiece salons (displays being much too modest a term). Lady Rosemary “I hate furniture on the slant” Spencer-Churchill would approve. Tinged with temporality, touched by ephemerality, the rooms are nonetheless paragons of authenticity. Exhibitors’ choice of wall covering is all defining. At Wallace Chan, velvety black is not so much a negation as a celebration of the totality of all colours. The kaleidoscopic crystallinity of a heist’s worth of gems is a welcome foil to the solidity of the backdrop. Jewellery designer and artist Wallace tells us, “I am always very curious. I like to study the sky and the earth. I seek to capture the emotions of the universe in my works.” Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows by Henry Holiday cast an atmospheric rainbow over Sinai and Sons. Such a whirl of interiors – Min Hogg would approve. Purveyors of Exquisite Mind Bombs, Quiet Storm, add to the glamour. An exchange of fabulosity with Linda Oliver occurs. Moving on…

Countess Litta Detail @ Stair Sainty Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

This year’s theme of women is encapsulated by a masterpiece painted by a female of a female courtesy of Stair Sainty Gallery. “Why Vigée Le Brun is regarded as one of the finest and most gifted of all c18th female portrait artists” the gallery succinctly tweeted. Stair Sainty do though deservedly devote 3,290 words on their website to Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun’s oil portrait of Yekaterina Vassilievna Skavronskaia (Countess Litta to you), a member of the Russian Court. A favourite of nobility and royalty, Madame Lebrun was tasked with softening the French Queen Marie Antoinette’s image through a series of family portraits. Despite the artist’s outstanding talent, this PR attempt was about as successful as Edina Monsoon recruiting Kate Moss (incidentally the model pops up in Chris Levine’s laser tryptych She’s Light priced £25,000) as a client in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. The premiere clashes with the Masterpiece Preview but we’ll stick to one red carpet at a time…

Linda Oliver Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The late great Zaha Hadid, a regular visitor up to last year at Masterpiece, is now the subject of a commemorative salon. Interior designer Francis Sultana has curated an exhibition revealing Zaha wasn’t just the world’s greatest female architect – she was a dab hand at painting, jewellery and crockery design. Undisputed queen of Suprematism, curvature is her signature whatever the scale. Francis remarks, “Zaha never really believed in straight lines as such.” Across the boulevard, a moving arrangement by the Factum Foundation centred round a life-size crucifix is a reminder amidst this earthly wealth and glamour of the importance of faith and preservation. “Art is intention, not materials,” believes Adam Lowe of the Factum Foundation.

Masterpiece Fair 2016 Style © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Montaged onto a bright blue sky, it’s time the red and white multidimensional Masterpiece marquee was designated as a listed building. Seasonal of course. Talking of the (changing) Season, whatever next? Proms in Peckham? Disney at Montalto? We’ll settle for tomorrow afternoon’s London Art Week Preview, a jolly round the galleries of St James’s with The Wallace Collection’s architect John O’Connell.

Quiet Storm Masterpiece Fair 2016 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Architecture Art Design People

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao + Making Africa A Continent of Contemporary Design

Seeing is Believing

Bilbao © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bilbao. The museum with a city attached. And what a museum! The moated mountain of metal that is the Guggenheim. Looking (hyphen optional) shipshape. It’s approached by foot along Abandoibarra (the riverside walk) under Louise Bourgeois’s arachnid sculpture Maman that resembles for all the world – Starck on steroids – an inflated Juicy Salif Lemon Squeezer. Art or design?

Bilbao Basque Country © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

While the museum’s regenerating ‘effect’, a left bank titanium quarter, inspired a rash of grimly unsuccessful cultural projects (nobody mention Sheffield’s National Centre for Popular Music), imitators failed to register the added ingredients to Bilbao’s mix. Not one but a multiplicity of super-architect projects (Calatrava, Foster, Hadid, StarckStern plus Isozaki’s two fingered 22 storey cloud bothering salute), a 15th century historic quarter, dramatic scenery, sunshine (mostly), great cuisine and good looking locals all complement the world’s most photographed museum. It’s hard to disagree with Victor Hugo, “Everyone who has visited the Basque Country longs to return; it is a blessed land.”

Isozaki Gate Bilbao © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

‘Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design’ is the latest exhibition at the Guggenheim Bilbao. It’s curated by Petra Joos at the Guggenheim and Amelie Klein of Vitra Design Museum. The exhibition seeks to illustrate how design is steering change in Africa and presents the main protagonists of this new design epoch. Its context is globalisation through technology, especially the internet. “A part of this development is a new and open understanding of what design is,” explains Mateo Kries, Director of Vitra Design Museum. “It’s no longer limited to the creation of furniture, products, typography or fashion, but is very closely interwoven with the fields of photography, art, architecture and even urbanism.” He believes while this change is happening around the world today, it most clearly manifests itself in Africa.

View from Guggenheim Bilbao © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Mateo’s counterpart Juan Ignacio Vidarte at the Guggenheim concurs, “It is in the intersection of innumerable creative fields… that design holds a position as the focal point for multidisciplinary work. ‘Making Africa’ successfully portrays the image of a continent that is beginning to move at this very moment.” ‘C-Stunners, 2012’, eyewear sculptures by the Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru in the show’s Prologue section, are a metaphor for what’s to come. Who’s examining who? “We’re mutually examining ourselves,” responds Amelie. “The exhibition isn’t a totalising vision. Rather, a supplementary vision. Not an exhaustive dialogue – a starting point for our thoughts. One possible way, another way, of looking at the continent.” The exhibition cleverly conveys the diversity and complexity of Africa. After all, this is a landmass with a population of one billion.

Barceló Bilbao Nervión © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Skyline © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Guggenheim Bilbao Atrium © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Guggenheim Bilbao Staircase © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

C-Stunners 2012 by Cyrus Kabiru © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Lucinda Mudge_edited-1

Western misconceptions are diminished. Laughter replaces misery. “Something I got obsessed with is people dancing to Pharrell William’s video ‘Happy’!” smiles Amelie. “I really watched those videos, I dunno, for nights and nights in a row! There are dozens from Africa. Yet in our Westernised minds the continent is always struggling.” She selected the work of young South African photographer Jody Brand which depicts not only African street style but party life and in doing so, reflects a changing society. Jody’s images show there’s much more than struggle to Africa.

Scary Beautiful 2012 by Leanie van der Vyver © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Like Mateo, Amelie believes “the continent is at the forefront of global technological change”. She continues, “Modernism was the result of change in Europe 100 years ago. What will we see coming out of this change?” The politics of representation are never far away. Who’s allowed to speak about Africa? The curators engaged in an intense three year long preparation to qualify. Their exhibition includes 75 recorded interviews with artists and designers. “In reality of course,” concedes Amelie, “there are millions and billions of different Africas. How can we speak about one Africa? From Cairo to Cape Town, there’s a lot in that!”

Guggenheim Bilbao Exhibition © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

‘Making Africa’ attempts to answer many questions but the curators want visitors to go away asking new questions. And preferably seeing Africa in a new way or ways. “You will see art in this design show,” warns Amelie, “but I’ve used every single piece to make comment on design. That’s the thread that keeps everything together. I can make an argument for every single object on a key design issue.” One such issue is social and political commentary. Leanie van der Vyver’s ‘Scary Beautiful, 2012’ is a design statement – or is it art? – on cruelty in women’s fashion. Think ribcage crushing corsets or neck elongating braces. Leanie worked with shoe designer René van der Berg to create a pair of impossibly tall reversed high heels. Despite limiting the wearer’s mobility and controlling her silhouette to the extreme, the shoes are actually wearable. Seguing her fashion interest into design work, Leanie asks the viewer to look anew at (not so) everyday apparel and what it represents.

Making Africa © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The 120 contributing young makers and thinkers are a savvy and politically astute lot. They are a critical generation not afraid to speak out, freer, perhaps, of the burden of colonialism. ‘Making Africa’ doesn’t shy away from the darker side of the continent. South African artist Lucinda Mudge isn’t one to pull punches. Her hard hitting vases display home truths. “I use headlines from local crime story reports,” she says. ‘I Will Kill You and Then I Will Eat You’ is emblazoned on the side of one of her vases. The other side, slogan free, is beautifully decorated in gold. Violence and beauty. One artist, duality of voice. Nothing is simply black or white. It’s a comment on not looking, on looking the other way. There’s more than one way to view a situation, a design, an artwork, she’s saying. And a continent.

Making Africa Guggenheim Bilbao © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Basque Country is famous for its nationalistic stance, but hosting ‘Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design’ demonstrates its global outlook. The exhibition explores what’s beyond modernism, while liberating visitors from Western myopia. Africa. The continent with a vision attached.

Guggenheim Bilbao Making Africa Artists © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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B + H Buildings Clerkenwell London

Reconstruction of the Country House

Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

We are not an invention of your twilight hours

Clerkenwell has more architects per square metre than anywhere else in London. Take Bowling Green Lane. Tis the address of heavyweights Zaha Hadid, CZWG, Ian Simpson and Wilkinson Eyre. The density of pubs and restaurants is equally high. Handy presumably for wining and dining clients. This is after all the birthplace of the gastropub and the home of Exmouth Market. Round the corner on the corner of Northampton Road opposite a corner of leafy Spa Fields, an attractive 20th century Georgian revival block (as double fronted as the fireplaces inside) has been reborn as B&H Buildings with more than a sniff of Greenwich Village Manhattan sidewalk. What’s not to love? Clerkenwell links central London to the east end. Kind of. It was discovered by early loft pioneers before most Shoreditch hipsters were even born. A variegated skyline harks back to earlier glories: the 2000s polemical pyramidal Park Hut; the 1960s cliff face of Michael Cliffe House; the 1880s bastioned basilica of Our Most Holy Redeemer; the 1890s shadowy chateau of Kingsway Place; the 1790s spiritual spire of St James.

B&H Buildings © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

We will make you feel young again

While there’s a smattering of architects at the launch and a plethora of alpha types wearing Omega watches, a broader social mix – beta, zeta, eta, theta – reflects the appeal of an all day brasserie and bar from the people that brought us Bourne & Hollingsworth Bar, Reverend JW Simpson, Blitz Party and Prohibition. Fewer beards more socks less attitude than Hoxton. The brand’s offices are upstairs, hence the name. “If you don’t feel decadent you’re doing something wrong,” maintains that sage of New York, Sonja (JP) Morgan. Haut monde, beau monde, demimonde, tout le monde. It’s time to mingle; bring on that decadence. Whether vernissage or finissage, tastemakers or savants, we’re trailblazing our esoteric odyssey through town. The Music Box (golden section) apartments launch hosted by Gordon Ramsay. The Wallace Collection’s Great Gallery (golden frames) reopening. Wrong for Hay’s press lunch at 35 Queen Anne’s Gate (golden postcode). The Wish List (golden wonder) after party at Ognisko Polskie Club. Brunch at Sinabro on Battersea Rise (golden egg cocotte). Fortieth Anniversary of the Destruction of the Country House Exhibition (golden age) at the V&A. On canapés overdrive, little wonder The September Issue is always the fattest.

We are the children of a lost era

Ah! Country houses. The V&A exhibition featured Breathless Beauty, Broken Beauty by Vanessa Jane Hall, a hauntingly evocative video triptych of country house ruins and restorations. Her cryptic murmurings provide our standalone quotes. We have form. “The interiors of the B&H restaurant and café capture the idea of an abandoned country house where the gardens and staterooms have slowly grown into one another,” explains Lou Davies of Box 9 Architects. An inside-out outside-in design emerged from her collaboration with the in-house creative team and Lionel Real de Azua of Red Deer Architects. Lionel calls it “a dramatic transformation” although the spaces are purposely not overdesigned. Trailing creepers and hanging baskets frame wicker seats grouped around cast iron tables. A white marble mosaic bar looks good enough to dance on. Head Chef Alex Visciano, former Sous Chef at the Connaught, delivers some fine culinary moments. Cod tempura bites with pea sauce and red bell pepper and thyme cake. Yum. Cider Rose (Somerset Cider Brandy, blackberry and champers) and Eton Fizz (Rathbone Gin, strawberries, lemon, honey, Greek yoghurt, egg white and soda). Complex cocktails, easy to drink. What’s the verdict on B&H Buildings? The jury’s in. No double takes. Or mixed metaphors. Just oxymoronic single entendres. B&H stands for burgeoning brilliance and a harbinger of happening.

And in our hearts we will paint these ashes as shining white snowflakes

B&H Buildings Interior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Architecture Country Houses Design Luxury People

Cadogan Hall + Inchbald Private View London

Hip to be Square

Hermione Russell Inchbald © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Is it just us or does the world really revolve around Sloane Square? Is it seriously the epicentre of gravity and gravitas? Everybody knows everybody in Café (Colbert) Society. There are no Sloane strangers. First it was the Chelsea Flower Show. Then Masterpiece. Now Inchbald. We’re off to Cadogan Hall to discover the next Sister Parish and Gertrude Jekyll at the end of year show. Well past its half century, the Inchbald School of Design has been instrumental in raising the profile of design in this country. Its founder Jacqueline DuncanMrs Duncan OBE to you – is reining principal. Not content with founding the first interior design school in Europe, she soon expanded the syllabus to incorporate garden design courses. Past lecturers have included David Hicks and alumni frequently reach single name status: Henrietta, Nina, Zaha.

Cothay Manor, a star of Country House Rescue, is revisited by Postgraduate Diploma in Architectural Interior Design student Hermione Russell. Ever since her History of Art BA, Hermione has focused on country house architecture. “I’ve reimagined Cothay Manor, which dates from the 1400s, as a bed and breakfast in the countryside. I wanted to instil a sense of belonging into the interiors,” she explains. “I’ve sandblasted the beams of the low ceilings to make spaces appear more airy.” Her drawings reveal a contemporary reinterpretation of Edwardian notions of sweetness and light. Think Lutyens at Knebworth or later Aileen Plunket at Luttrellstown Castle. “The bedrooms are named after wild flowers,” says Hermione, carrying on a country house tradition. Take Dundarave, Northern Ireland’s finest estate on the market. It sticks to colours for the names of the seven principal bedrooms. The Blue Room, Pink Room, Green Room, Yellow Room, Red Room, Brown Room, Bird Room (which begs the question what hue is the plumage?). The 12 secondary bedrooms remain anonymous.

From the great indoors to the great outdoors. Postgraduate Diploma in Garden Design student Anastasia Voloshko’s exhibition is entitled Seam Maze Limassol Promenade. “Limassol is Cyprus’s most international city,” says Anastasia who has also studied interior design. “It’s a crossroads of different cultures and languages. My concept was to use the spectacular background of the sea and translate its deep mystery onto the land.” An organic flow of contours and materials emerges, connecting the rocky shore to the modern city. Again, a reinterpretation of traditional forms – a rock garden, pool, box hedging – creates a refreshed language, a new geometry for our times. “I am inspired by many things,” she ponders. “A nice mood, the sky, a song, a painting… sometimes my best ideas come out of nowhere!”

Seam Maze Limassol Promenade by Anastasia Voloshko Lavender's Blue

Two very different projects. Two very different voices. Yet both Hermione and Anastasia tell us, “Going to Inchbald was the best professional decision of my life!” Inchbald School of Design continues to equip new generations of graduates with the skills to create houses for gardens and gardens for houses and places for people.

Anastasia Voloshko Inchbald © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley