HTSI editor’s letter: a tribute to creativity in a crisis
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Oh God, I miss live theatre. I’m currently sitting in the kitchen listening to the 2018 cast recording of Sondheim’s Company, and thinking I would give anything to be scrunched into a squeaky stalls seat listening to a live overture right now. The last time I was in a theatre was January 2020, when I saw Daniel Fish’s gorgeously raw production of Oklahoma! at New York’s Circle in the Square. I remember flicking through the playbill and seeing the posters for the season’s upcoming shows, and wondering if I would somehow be able to swing a trip to Manhattan and catch Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick in the revival of Plaza Suite. Ha! If only! Weeks later, Broadway went dark, and Plaza Suite was closed before it opened. But it’s not only theatre. I crave concerts, cinemas and galleries as well. When I think back to the trip I took to Tate Britain in early December to see Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s captivating survey, I feel quite lachrymose.
Living in a city, I have always been happily complacent about the wealth of shows, concerts and events right on my door. But the past year has seen us cast into a cultural wilderness, sustained by the crumbs thrown out by Netflix, but starved of that “goosebumpy” sensation one feels when you discover a real surprise. Through lockdown, we have learnt to consume our culture in a kind of collective frenzy, falling en masse for whatever drama, or podcast, or album, is the most talked about each week. And then we move on, herd-like, to devour fresh entertainment. We’re ravenous for content, but few things have really hit the spot. Artists and creatives, meanwhile, have had a long pause for reflection. For many, the months have been a frustrating game of patience: actors, dancers and musicians have found their careers cruelly stalled. And it is a sad sort of homage to their industries that we note their absence in this arts issue. Next season, I tell ya, it will be musicals or bust.
For some, however, quarantine has inspired a period of unexpected productivity: I was astonished to see so many new works, for example, in the Yiadom-Boakye show. Confinement has allowed a number of artists to turn to works they previously had no time to do. Julian Schnabel has found the pandemic no impediment to his typically robust form of self-expression. As he marks a new monograph published by Taschen, he reflects on his career highlights, the new art establishment, and where he sits within it now. “I don’t even really need an audience,” is his response to the limitations of showing art in galleries, although interviewer Lou Stoppard does detect a tiny note of vulnerability in his claim. Regardless of your feelings for Schnabel’s oeuvre, the piece makes for a feisty read.
No less feisty – though possibly less fulfilled within their lifetimes – designers Charlotte Perriand, Lina Bo Bardi and Eileen Gray are among a clutch of women whose creative work has lately been reappraised. In “Interior Lives – Women Designers Step Out Of The Shadows”, Lucia van der Post explores the lives and legacies of some of the most overlooked interior designers of the 20th century, who are now finally getting their due. Charlotte Perriand is slated to be the focus of a solo exhibition at The Design Museum in London later on this summer. I hope this inspires a full immersion in her impeccably considered world.
In the meantime, we have lots of thoughts about those arts closer to home. Francesca Gavin explores the future of framing, Jamie Reid examines the legacy of the Anglo-Irish Big House in Western literature, and Aimee Farrell’s paean to the pelargonium draws our attention to one of nature’s mighty works. Never having been a geranium fan previously, I’m now completely converted to these gnarly old survivors; plus, I’m a sucker for stories about spinsters and their bright, sororal blooms.
And there’s cake. Is icing an art form? You better believe it. In “Meet the Food Artists Who Are Moving Us To Tiers”, Rosanna Dodds speaks to the bakers sculpting buttercream and fondant into Marie Antoinette-worthy delights: each one is quite the masterpiece – with extra mouthfeel.
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