Vol. 43 No. 13 · 1 July 2021

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In Howard Hodgkin’s Studio

I was the architect of Howard Hodgkin’s studio, completed in 1991, which Rye Dag Holmboe writes about (LRB, 3 June). Work started two years earlier, when I was asked to build a wall between his house and his studio, which was a roofed-in courtyard previously used as a dairy distribution centre, complete with lifts and hydraulic turntables to the basement for the stocking of electric milk floats. The space under the studio was mostly inaccessible when we got to it and was, after much difficulty, eventually turned into a library for Howard’s extensive collection of books. Hence the cost.

The original workshop/dairy roof was a timber and glass construction supported by unusual wrought iron trusses patented by a French engineer, Camille Polonceau, in 1837. The roof was stripped back to this structure and a novel (it was the first of its kind in England) glazed roof added, which gives the studio its shadowless and luminous natural light: light from the sun and sky is channelled through millions of tiny glass tubes sandwiched between layers of glass. The site is completely surrounded by other Bloomsbury buildings, but that is never apparent in the interior, which appears to be uniformly bright all year round. The original workshop floor was relaid to include underfloor heating and electrics and given a painted white finish, which now bears the spots and spills of paint from the last thirty years.

The adjoining house is also unusual, in that it is very wide (five bays) but only one room deep. This creates a spatial contrast between house and studio, which must have made for a very satisfactory distinction between home and work life. Howard insisted on the installation of a fully grown date palm in the courtyard between house and studio, which has now taken over the space, but rarely produces any dates. Since 1991 I have returned to refurbish the studio and to upgrade the roof glazing, improving the luminosity and insulation. Now it’s even brighter, warmer in winter, and cooler in summer.

Robert Barnes
Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire

Whose is it?

Gill Partington writes that Kenneth Goldsmith’s UbuWeb, his online ‘repository of pilfered creations’, is the apotheosis of the cultural logic of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (LRB, 1 April). The phrase is perhaps even more appropriate than she intends. Speculation is rife that the porcelain urinal exhibited in New York in April 1917 under the signature ‘R. Mutt’ was itself ‘borrowed’ (or stolen) from the Dadaist poet and artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. Some regard von Freytag-Loringhoven as an unjustly neglected figure in conceptual art and seek to represent Fountain as a significant feminist statement; those on Duchamp’s side dismiss the claim as a conspiracy theory. The debate has played out online for the past few years, and surfaced recently in the Art Newspaper and the Burlington Magazine. Perhaps it’s in the spirit of UbuWeb – whose aim, Partington writes, is to ‘drag culture away from the centre and into the open-source era of sample and remix, copy and paste’, and which always places more emphasis on an artwork’s social and collective uses and afterlives than on its individual creator – that this issue of provenance remains unresolved.

Sarah Pyke

Golden Parallelogram

Rosemary Hill writes incisively about London’s West End (LRB, 4 March). I would like to add something about the early history of what Sydney Smith called the ‘golden parallelogram’ (bounded by Hyde Park to the west, Regent Street to the east, Oxford Street to the north and Piccadilly to the south). This involved the confluence of long-standing English attitudes to land ownership with new commercial activities from the Continent (Italy and the Low Countries in particular), but also the disruption of the former with Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, which created opportunities for the latter.

The needs of Henry’s treasury led to the sale into private hands of about 20 per cent of England’s ecclesiastical land; notable instances include the earl of Bedford’s Covent Garden holdings and the earl of Southampton’s in Bloomsbury. The transformation of these pastures with their manor houses into strategically planned residential neighbourhoods was an innovation for England, but its greater historical importance is that it was undertaken by private entrepreneurs, in contrast to the royal creation of modern Paris and the civic works of Italian rulers.

Hill refers to Georgian London as ‘the biggest city anyone had ever seen’. It is worth noting that its growth was not moderate and even. From the second half of the 16th century until the first half of the 17th century, London received waves of rural Englanders as the Enclosure movement forced out tenant farmers. At the same time, the city also gained many foreigners from the Low Countries, France and Spain, fleeing religious and economic persecution. While the net inflow was moderated by frequent mass emigrations to escape the plague, London is said to have doubled in size during those hundred years.

To accommodate this influx wasn’t easy for the existing city, confined within its Roman walls. Proposals for additional housing were rejected by the early mayors, and successive monarchs, living further west in St James’s Palace or Whitehall, did not welcome the crowding of Westminster or the settlement of the pastoral lands between it and the western wall of the City of London. In the event, the need for housing was met by rebellious, innovative private developers, who combined historical structures of landed ownership with modern sources of capital. The fever for urban property began. Rising enthusiasm for the ‘town house’ and city amenities on the part of visiting gentry and increasingly wealthy merchants, resulted in the development of the residential square throughout the West End, starting with Inigo Jones’s design for Covent Garden in 1628-29. By the early 17th century, the area boasted many glamorous residential precincts, with gardens, piazzas, stores, cafés and galleries, all provided by private landlords.

Patrice Derrington
New York

Slippery Notion

Adam Phillips refers to ‘émigré Jews of Kafka’s generation in antisemitic societies like Prague’ (LRB, 20 May). Émigré from where? Kafka was born in Prague. He grew up there, like his (near) contemporaries Grete Fischer, Milena Jesenská, Lenka Reinerová and Gertrude Urzidil (as well as Max Brod, Franz Werfel and Egon Erwin Kisch), all of whom later emigrated, though a few returned. Kafka’s parents were born in the Czech lands. In fact, his swimming lessons took place in the Vltava, which underlines Phillips’s point that exclusion is a slippery notion. Looking at the destruction of Czech-German-Jewish culture, what is striking is that none of these writers could hope to be ‘included’ automatically in Czech society, even if they did learn to swim in the most Czech river of all. Somewhat analogously, women are all but excluded from Phillips’s account of exclusion, even though we took the first bite of the apple.

Lucy Duggan

Megacity One

Jordan Sand mentions the guardian role of two great Tendai Buddhist temples, Enryaku-ji in Kyoto, and Kan’ei-ji in Edo (LRB, 3 June). In Chinese geomancy, the north-east was considered the entrance for evil forces, and Mount Hiei, where Enryaku-ji was founded in 788, was north-east of the emperor’s new seat in Kyoto. Although barely more than a hillock, Ueno Hill, the site chosen for Kan’ei-ji, was conveniently situated north-east of Edo Castle, seat of the Tokugawa shoguns. Most of Kan’ei-ji was obliterated in the Battle of Ueno in 1868. The imperial forces prevailed with the help of Armstrong guns and Snider-Enfield rifles. Kan’ei-ji’s abbot, an imperial prince, escaped and fled north in a Tokugawa warship to lead the shoguns’ resistance.

Above the entrance to the miniature Kiyomizu temple is a stirring contemporary painting of the battle. Kiyomizu-do is one of the few original wooden structures of Kan’ei-ji’s vast precincts to have survived. Another remnant is the Tosho-gu shrine to the deified Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun, who became Great Deity of the East Shining Light. Buddhism and native Shinto cheerfully commingled until officially separated after 1868. The Shinto shrine to Ieyasu had its own five-storey Buddhist pagoda, which nearly vanished in a xenophobic spasm of anti-Buddhist destruction in the 1870s. The pagoda, tantalisingly visible through the stone lanterns and trees leading to Tosho-gu, is now part of Ueno Zoo.

In 1873, most of Kan’ei-ji’s lands were made into a public park and a new northern rail terminus. Ueno Station was where jobseekers arrived from the impoverished north-east, giving rise to the district’s plebeian reputation. Kan’ei-ji’s cemetery, where six shoguns are buried, now overlooks busy railway lines. Apart from two gates and washbasins, the mausoleums were destroyed in air raids in 1945. Six more shoguns were interred in Zojo-ji temple. The Tokyo Prince Hotel was built on top of Zojo-ji’s cemetery, just in time for the 1964 Olympics. Tokyo Tower, modelled on the Eiffel Tower, also stands on former Zojo-ji land.

Peter McGill
Malmesbury, Wiltshire

Mushroom Brain

Francis Gooding writes about the relationship between plants and mycorrhizal fungi (LRB, 20 May). Fungi extend the reach of plants’ roots, bringing them water and essential nutrients in a form they can absorb; they also protect them from pests and diseases. In return plants provide the fungi with the carbon that makes up their bodies; many fungi are entirely dependent on plants for this. However, when plants are given fertilisers, they have less need of the fungi and will stop supplying carbon ‘exudates’.

So, mycorrhizal fungi are destroyed not only by digging and ploughing, but also by the use of artificial feeding, and of course by pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. This is bad news not only for plants, but also for the planet. Much more carbon is stored in soil than in land vegetation and the atmosphere combined (according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation Soils Portal, more than twice as much). About a third of this is held in the bodies of fungi, both living and dead, where it survives for much longer than, for example, in dead plant matter. The FAO estimates that 10 per cent of anthropogenic carbon emissions could be sequestered in soils worldwide over 25 years. But making good on that possibility will require major changes in farming techniques.

Annabel Gregory
London N22

All Together Now

I much enjoyed Ian Penman’s piece on the Beatles (LRB, 17 June). I would, however, take issue with his contention that Brian Epstein did not neuter them. Their first studio LP, Please Please Me (1963), was recorded pretty much in the spirit of a live set, but for two or three years after that, the soft production (rhythm section too far down in the mix) betrays some uncertainty as to whether they were a rock’n’roll band or a London Palladium turn. You only have to go back to the bootleg tapes of their performances in Hamburg from 1962 to hear the rough edges that were subsequently smoothed away.

Peter Lawson
Weybourne, Norfolk

Ian Penman renders the final chant of the Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’ – probably the best-known mass singalong in pop history – as ‘Laaa, la la, la-la-la laaa …’. I hate to break it to him, but he has been singing it wrong all these years. It is clearly: ‘Naaa, na na, na-na-na naaa …’

Clarissa Wyatt
Ripon, North Yorkshire

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