Tuesday, 9 March 2010
'Ruskin's Venice' Exhibition
I’m lucky to have Lancaster University’s Ruskin Library on my doorstep. Its art exhibitions are always interesting and informative, and the current one on ‘Ruskin’s Venice’ (to 21st March) is up to the usual excellent standard, with many fine drawings, etchings and water-colours of Venetian Gothic architecture by Ruskin and his cronies. There’s nearly always a William Morris spin-off too, which in this case takes the form of a display copy of the Kelmscott Press edition of Ruskin’s Nature of Gothic, which Morris describes in that unforgettable phrase as ‘one of the very few necessary and inevitable utterances of our century’.
But the Morris connection reminds me that I would like the Ruskin Library to be utopian as well as historical, to open itself up to zany futuristic artistic and architectural impulses as well as to the sensible scholarly ones it usually embodies in its shows. Could it not, for example, chance its arm with an exhibition of the utopian architecture of German Expressionism (which is certainly in the Ruskin-Morris tradition)? With its ‘Glass Chain’ utopian correspondence between architects in 1919 and 1920, its 1925 compendium of Architecture Which Was Never Built which gathered together the architectural utopias of all periods, with its bizarre projects for ‘architecture plays’ and utopian architectural films full of ‘flame-buildings’, naturally ‘grown’ houses and ray-domes, the exhilarating Gothic modernism of Bruno Taut, Hermann Finsterlein, Erich Mendelsohn and the early Bauhaus might fire up our own utopian imaginings today.
All museums, I think, should aspire to be museums of the future, not just of the past. May the Ruskin Library under its energetic Director Stephen Wildman be bold enough to make a start in that direction!