27 February 2021

Phaidon Verlag Press' brilliant art publications: from Vienna to London and New York

Phaidon Verlag was founded as a history and art-book publisher in Vienna in 1923 by Ludwig Goldscheider (1896–1973), Dr Béla Horovitz (1898–1955) and Frederick Ungar (1898-1988), all Jewish scholars.

The founders named the com­pany Phaidon after a pupil of Soc­r­ates, to reflect their love of classical culture. The company's distinctive logo der­ived from the Greek let­t­er phi, which represented the golden rat­io, employed by artists, arch­itects and de­signers since antiquity. Their first titles were on lit­erat­ure, philosophy and history, incl­uding a German edition of Plato's works. Great attention was paid to value and design, two factors that remained throughout MY undergr­ad­uate career. Their objective was to deliver quality books at an aff­ordable price; Goldscheider's contrib­ution came in the elegant layout and handsome production; mine was to stun and amaze the Art History Dept where I studied.

The company soon became known across Europe for its high-quality books about art and arch­itecture. The large-format art books first emerged in 1937, featuring works by Vincent van Gogh, San­dro Botti­c­elli and the French Impressionists. Then they expanded the programme to include the works of art his­t­orians like Burckhardt, and the addit­ion of beau­t­iful photogravure plates. Then the published editions of fine C19th bio­graphies of Raphael & Michelangelo both by Grimm, and Velázquez by Justi.

Michelangelo by Goldscheider,
Phaidon, 1953

The story of art, by Gombrich.
Phaidon 1956.

The classic Phaidon book, which went to every private and institution­al art library, emerged in 1937 with large-format books and high-quality plates. These books by Horovitz were aimed at the British and American market; he was a pioneer of the internat­ion­al co-edition and it was these large print-runs that achieved decent prices.

To avoid the tragedy of the Nazi Anschluss of Austria in 1938 on Jews, Hor­ov­itz and Goldscheider quickly moved the company to London, re-est­ab­lishing it as Phaidon Press. Ungar also had to leave Austria urg­ently, but he went to New York in 1939 and founded the Frederick Ungar Pub­lishing Co there in 1940. The trio sadly never got together again.

British success was possible with the help of publisher Sir Stanley Unwin, who later gave a graphic account of how he beat the German authorities in his auto­biography The Truth about a Pub­lisher (1960). For the next 14 years Phaidon books were distrib­uted via George Allan & Unwin Ltd. Horovitz and Goldscheider expanded the large-format series to in­clude books on Donatello, Bell­ini and Mich­aelangelo, many edited by Goldscheider him­self. They had fine photo-gravure printers who kept high reproductive standards.

After the war the company laun­ched innovative schol­arly and popular art publishing. They published monographs on established and new art­ists, as well as surveys of various art movements. Their best known title, The Story of Art first published in 1950, had its origins in a chance meeting between Horovitz and Ernst Gombrich (1909-2001) on the top deck of a London bus. A fellow pre-war ref­ug­ee from Vienna, Gom­brich had become a research fellow teaching at the War­burg Institute in 1936. It was inspiration on the part of Horovitz to pers­uade him to write a one-volume survey of the history of art. The Story of Art, Ernst Gomb­r­ich's narrative survey, has sold 8+ million copies and has been tran­slated into 30+ languages, becoming one of the best-selling art books EVER. The company also published the world's second best-selling art surv­ey: The Art Book, which presented the work of 600 artists from the medieval era on.

The Art Book, 1994

Great Women Artists, 2019

Gombrich was just one of the great art historians published by Phaidon. Other famous authors were Sir Kenneth Clark, Bernard Berenson, Anthony Blunt and Rudolf Wittkower. Sir John Pope-Hennessy's high quality Introduction to Italian Sculpture was re-published later.

In 1951 publishing history was made with the first Phaidon Colour Plate book, which made artists' work readily available in colour to a wide audience at a reasonable price.

Following Horovitz’s death in 1955, Phaidon was taken over by his son-in-law, Harvey Miller. Miller continued the trad­ition of sch­olarship and high quality monog­raphs and catalogues in New York. He ex­panded the Colour Plate series and many of Gombrich's more scholarly titles.

In 1967 Phaidon was sold to Frederick Praeger Inc, a part of Encyclop­aed­ia Britannica. Praeger found the business unprofitable and in 1974 he sold to Elsevier. Phaidon books continued to be distributed in America and translated into many other languages.

The 1970s saw a great expansion in the number of staff and the number of titles. Like other contemporary publishers, Phaidon diversif­ied into a range of areas, took on production and distribution of some El­sevier titles and began to buy in titles from publishers abroad. While many good quality books were published, the strong and disting­uished Phaidon identity had been lost. Elsevier also found art books unp­rof­­­itable and in 1981 a management buy-out was sorted by 4 directors under a holding company. Phaidon was acquired by Richard Schlagman in 1990. Sch­lagman hired the designer Alan Fletcher in 1993 to be the creat­ive lead, and in 1998 Fletcher brought on board the young German des­igner Julia Hasting. She focused on conceptual book design, emphas­is­ing the art book as an object.

Atlas of Brutalist Architecture,
edited by Phaidon editors, 2020

Thank you Phaidon for publishing monographs on my absolutely favourite C20th Architecture masters includ­ing Marcel Breuer, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto & Eero Saar­inen. And mono­gra­phs on contemporary inter­nat­ional architecture. In 2004 Phaidon pub­lished historical surveys on arch­itecture eg Atlas of Brutalist Ar­chit­ecture. For lecturers and students more interested in the dec­or­ative arts, Phaidon publishes mon­ographs on furniture, graphics, design and interiors.

23 February 2021

Brilliant American author living & writing in Britain - Bill Bryson

Spouse and I lived in Britain in 1972 and 1973, and worked in a Herts hospital. American Bill Bryson (b1951) first visited Britain in 1973 and worked in a Sur­rey hospital. Bill married a local nurse in 1975, moved back to Des Moines in 1975 to complete his studies at Drake Uni, then re-set­­t­led in Britain in 1977. Mainly they lived in rural Hampshire.

The Road to Little Dribbling 
published 2015

Bryson travelled around Britain, to cele­brate the green and pleasant land that he called his own country. His book, Notes from a Small Is­l­and (1995), was the bestselling travel book ever, and one I loved. But he was rude. Remember the story in Notes in which Bryson was stuck in a train carriage with a railway enthusiast. The man went on endlessly, with Brys­on stoically enduring the boredom, at which point the mood ch­anged. Bryson learned the man's wife had died relatively recently, so he snapped: "Suicide, I would guess." How VERY rude!

Later, to mark the 20th anniversary of this classic, Bryson made a new journey round Britain (2015). Bryson again gave a perceptive insight into all that was best and worst about modern Britain in his book The Road to Little Dribbling (Double­day 2015). Following a spinal route from Bognor Reg­is on England’s south coast to Cape Wrath in the Scot­t­ish Highlands, Bryson set out to RE-discover the beautiful country that he once knew. Each village en route led him to a tale of intrigue, his­tory and goss­ip. And despite Britain’s occas­ion­al dil­em­m­as, Bryson was still in love with his country, even though he lamented a count­ry that had become ov­erly tolerant of stupid­ity. 

As in his previous outing, The NY Times described how Bryson used visits to historic sites like Runnymede and Sutton Hoo to reflect on the true and otherwise details of Britain’s past. An outing in the New Forest prompted a discussion of Arthur Conan Doyle’s spiritualism; in Oxford, he wrote the story of Roger Bannister when he saw the track where he ran the first sub-four-minute mile. He scanned the tranquillity of the Cornish fishing village of Mousehole and the sadly diminished down-market resort of Blackpool.

He was constantly complaining about rubbish, il­l­it­er­acy, poor mann­ers, mediocrities, rip-offs and talent­less celebrit­ies that infested the place since he first arrived back in the 1970s. But once again, see his matchless romp through the funn­iest, the most ridiculous and the most scandalous. The latest Bry­son travel­ogue him showed him to be older (64) and grumpier, just like any ol­d­er Brit­ish man. But read­ers will enjoy this just as much as earl­ier books.

Bill Bryson, Hampshire

Bryson felt perfectly comfortable to gush, despite the cynical impulse of our times. At the same time, he was equally comfortable to unleash his inner killjoy: He wrote: Eastleigh appears to have been heavily bombed during WW2, though perhaps not heavily enough! Or later, desc­ribing a local bus: It was the sort of vehicle you would expect to be put on if you were being transferred between prisons. Rudeness popped into his head and out his mouth without censorship, which every Aust­ral­ian and New Zea­l­ander und­erstood. However I would call Antipodean humour iron­ic, and Brys­on’s humour sarcastic.

In May 2007, Bryson became the passionate president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. There wasn’t a land­scape in the world that was more artfully worked, more lovely to behold, more comfortable to be in than rural Great Brit­ain, he said. His argument was won by sneaki­ness, with charm and learning. And he still lives in the UK.

A Campaign to Protect Rural England poster

While we are talking about Australia, Bryson travelled across this nat­ion, exploring from a tourist’s perspective and seeking to und­er­stand what made Australians unique. In book, Down Under (Random House 2001) was also funny. Even though Australians knew a lot about Austral­ian history, Bill Bryson’s persp­ective could be very mind-expanding. As with every American tour­ist I ever met in Australia, Bryson focused on the many dangers of native Aust­ralian animals and used this medium to ex­amine the classic ch­aracteristic of Australians, that of underst­ate­ment. While surfing in Sydney he asked his host “What about sharks?” The host responded “Oh it’s been ages since someone was killed by a shark; months at least”. 

Down Under 
published 2001

Bryson’s reaction to Australian under­state­ment reminded me how much we take our casual attitude for granted. Austral­ians sharks were part of our painful history, but we still went swim­ming! Only an outsider like Bryson showed us how unique (and stupid) we were. It was huge proof that it took an outsider to see the truth about our own country.

20 February 2021

From Russia with love (or not) - Ayn Rand in the USA

In year 11, I read both Atlas Shrugged & The Fountainhead, and found them full of two revolting qualities: 1] selfish individualism and 2] destructive, laissez faire capitalism. Thus I am relying on Jonathan Freedland and others for a more balanced review. 

Alissa Rosenbaum (1905-82) was born in St Pet­ersburg, the eld­est of 3 children. Alissa was enrolled in a progressive school where she ex­cel­led academic­al­ly but was soc­ial­ly isolated. After the Russian Revol­ut­ion of 1917, her fath­er’s successful pharm­acy shop was confis­cated by Commun­ists, an event she loathed. At Leningrad State Uni, she studied history and read the works of Greek philosophers, then in 1924 enrolled in the State Institute for Cinematog­raphy.

Ayn Rand in St Petersburg
The Moscow Times

A letter from Chicagoan cousins encouraged her to leave Russia, to gain expertise that she could apply in the Soviet film industry. Upon arrival in 1926, she became Ayn Rand! From Chicago Rand went to Holly­wood, where producer Cecil B De­Mille got her work in films. In 1929 she married ac­t­or Frank O’Connor. Soon hir­­ed by RKO Rad­io Pic­tures, she continued writ­ing stor­ies, plays and film scenarios, and became an American citizen (1931).

Rand’s play, Night of January 16th (1933), was a hymn to in­dividualism in a courtroom drama. In 1934 she and O’Connor moved to New York to oversee the play’s production on Broadway. That year she also wrote Ideal, about a self-centred film star on the run from the law.

Her 1st pub­lish­ed novel, We the Living (1936), was a romantic tra­g­edy in which Sov­iet totalitarianism typified the intrinsic evils of coll­ectivism, the subservience of indiv­id­ual int­erests to those of the state. Then Anthem (1938) port­rayed a future collectivist dystopia.

Rand spent 7+ years working on The Fountain­head (1943), where a hand­some architectural genius whose ind­ividualism was shown in his total commitment to his own happiness. The hero, Howard Roark, blew up a public hous­ing project he’d designed, after it was altered against his will by government bureaucrats. On trial for his crime, he deliv­ered a lengthy speech in his own defence in which he argued for indiv­id­ualism over collectivism, egoism over altruism. And the jury voted unanim­ous­ly to acquit him!! Roark was Rand’s vision of the id­eal man who embod­ied her egoist­ic moral ideals - was he in­spired by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959)?

In 1945 she began planning her next novel, Atlas Shrug­ged (1957). The book depicted a future U.S on the verge of economic collapse af­ter years of collectivist misrule, where productive ci­t­izens i.e in­dust­rialists had been exp­loit­ed to benefit an unworthy pop­ulation of incompetents. The heroic and handsome physicist-inventor, John Galt, led a band of elite creators in a strike, to force the gov­ernment to re­spect their economic free­dom. From their Col­or­ado fort, they watched as the national econ­omy and the coll­ec­tivist soc­ial system faded.

 Top The Fountainhead, first published 1943
 Bottom Atlas Shrugged, first published 1957
In an appendix, Rand described her systematic philos­ophy: Object­ivism i.e the concept of a man with his own happiness as his ONLY moral pur­p­­ose, with pro­ductive achievement as his noblest activity. Objectiv­ism rejected all ideas that indicated a prim­itive cult­ure i.e fat­al­ism, ignor­ance, poverty, pas­sivity and coll­ect­­ivism. In­stead Object­ivism promoted Western civ­ilisation, cap­it­­­alism and mod­ern­ity, bring­ing individualism, science, ind­us­trialisation and wealth.

The book was attacked by a wide range of critics for its immorality, but it was well re­ceived by bus­iness leaders, men impressed by its moral justif­ic­ation of capitalism.

The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged appealed widely to young people through their accessible and compreh­ensive philosophy, rejection of traditional authority and impl­ic­it invitation to the reader to join the ranks of the elite (by copying the story’s hero).

In 1950 Rand agreed to meet a young admirer, Nathan Branden; Nathan and his girlfriend became Rand’s intel­lectual follow­ers. In 1951 the couple moved to New York, married in 1953, and introduced Rand to their friends at salons at Rand’s flat. The group, the Class of ’43 or The Collective, incl­ud­­ed an economist who later headed the U.S Pres­id­ent’s Council of Economic Advisers, Alan Greenspan.

In the late 1950s, Branden established a bus­in­ess designed to teach Objectivism to Rand readers. Nathaniel Branden Instit­ute in N.Y off­ered courses in Objectivism by Branden to other Object­iv­ist centres. An educational academy perhaps, but the Institute did not permit its students to think critic­ally about Ob­jectivism; rather it guarded Object­ivist or­thodoxy against innov­ation by symp­ath­isers, espec­ially among the grow­ing U.S and British right.

Meanwhile, Rand’s fame increased with her book sales. She was invited to speak at universities and on television programmes. Growing into her role as a public intellect­ual, she published her first work of non­fiction, For the New Intel­lectual, a coll­ect­ion of philos­ophical passages from her fiction, in 1961. The Virtue of Selfish­ness (1964) and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966) were drawn from lect­ures and articles. But Rand was continually frustrated by her failure to win acceptance am­ong academic philosophers. She attributed this neg­lect to collectivist bias and incompetence, but it was prob­ably due to the fict­ional, unscholarly form in which her philosophies appeared.

In 1968 Rand ac­cused Branden of betraying Objectiv­ist prin­ciples, end­ed his part­ner­ship in The Objectiv­ist and de­manded that the Instit­ute be closed. The closing of the Institute allowed various self-described Objectivists to blossom, but Rand bel­ieved these young lib­ertarians were flirting with anarchism.

In 1974 she had surgery for lung cancer and survived, but she could no longer pursue major writing pro­jects. In 1979 she re-publish­ed Intro­duction to Objectivist Ep­ist­emology, a collect­ion of philos­oph­ical articles, and died in 1982.

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, 1991
by philosopher Leonard Peikoff

In 1986 Barbara Branden published The Passion of Ayn Rand. Despite the resulting dam­age to her reputation, Rand retained a loyal following among con­servat­iv­es. In the 1990s-2000s her works contrib­uted to the pop­ularity of U.S libert­ar­ian­ism; she was an iconic figure in the anti-government Tea Party movement (2009). These polit­ical influences, rather than her lit­er­ature or philosophy, will live on. NB Travis Kalanick (Uber), Peter Thiel (Facebook), Steve Jobs (Apple) and Pres Donald Trump all adored her thinking!

16 February 2021

Angel of the North - UK's most impressive public sculpture

It started in the early 1980s when Gateshead decided to take art to the public because it did not have its own contemporary art gallery. The early works were so successful that in 1986 a formal public art programme was launched. This was given a tremendous boost during the 1990 Garden Festival in Gateshead with 70+ artworks on display.

Angel of the North
overlooking the A1 Motorway

Gateshead now has a legacy of 50+ major public works by leading artists and received funding from sources like the Arts Council Lottery, Northern Arts and local developers and sponsors. Art has helped reclaim derelict areas eg Gateshead Quays which transformed a former industrial area into an attractive public area enhanced with artworks.

Note that mining ceased on this Gateshead site in the late 1960s. But Gateshead Council's Art in Public Places Panel didn’t decide to earmark the site overlooking the A1 for a future landmark sculpture until 1990.

The Angel of the North is a contemporary weathering steel sculpture, designed by Antony Gormley (b1950). I didn’t know Gormley’s name because he is of the generation of young British artists who emerged recently. He has exhibited work around the world and has major public works in the USA, Europe, Japan and Australia. In 1994 he won the Turner Prize and in 1997 won an OBE for services to sculpture. He has shown in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Gallery, British Museum and Leeds Henry Moore Sculpture Gallery.

It is located in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. The artwork stands on a hill, overlooking the A1 and A167 roads and the East Coast Main Line rail route, south of the site of Team Colliery. Work in Hart­lepool began on the project in 1994, using government art money and private sponsor­sh­ip.

Gormley was selected by a panel and his design proposals progressed with engineering consultants, Ove Arup & Partners. Fabrication contractors visited Gormley's studio to see the Angel models and in May 1997, the fabrication company was chosen: Hartlepool Fabric­ations on Teesside.

A revolutionary approach to the Angel was devised by Hartlepool Fabric­ations working closely with consulting engineers Ove Arup and Gateshead Council. The original body castings of the Angel by Gorm­ley were scanned by the Geomatics Department at Newcastle University and the precise co-ordinates plotted to create an electronic 3D virtual reality.

A panoramic hilltop site was chosen where the sculpture would be clearly seen by more than 90,000 drivers a day on the A1 and by passengers on the East Coast London-Edinburgh main line. The site, the former colliery pithead synonymous with Gateshead mining history, was later re-turfed and the landscape in the surrounding area reinstated.

Completed in Feb 1998, the Angel was 20 ms tall with wings 54 ms across. Due to its exposed location, windloads on the wing boxes were transmitted along the ribs, down the body and into the foundations, to withstand winds of 160+ km/h. Thus, foundations  contain­ing 600 tonnes of concrete anchored the sculpture to rock 21 m below.

The angel was made in 3 parts, the body weighing 100 tonnes and the 2 wings weighing 50 tonnes each; then they were brought to its site by road. Working from scaffolding, workers secured each wing with 88 bolts then welded the plates together. The wings were angled slightly forward to create a sense of embrace. The angel was based on Gormley’s cast of his own body. 

A marquette/replica of The Angel of the North 
valued at £1m back in 2008

The plaque beside the Angel reads "The hill top site is important and has the feeling of being a megalithic mound. When you think of the mining that was done under­neath the site, there is a poetic resonance. Men worked beneath the surface in the dark. It is important to me that the Angel is rooted in the ground, the complete antithesis of what an angel is, floating about in the ether. It has an air of mystery." The statue was to represent the past, present and the changing times of the nation.

Antony Gormley, Another Place sculptures
in Merseyside

Despite the originally strong opposition, The Angel is now considered to be a land­mark for N.E England. Just in case car accidents might result from the stat­ue's special position near the A1 motorway, trees were planted to hide the sculpture from the road exactly where it passes closest. For those of us not driving around in the UK, the best cultural reference is in the tv detective show Vera (2011-) which uses the Angel to establish its Northumberland setting.

Gateshead Council spent decades putting art in public places, giving the area a national and international arts profile. Later more Gormley’s sculptures (2005) appeared on Crosby Beach in Merseyside, 10 ks from Liver­pool. Another Place consists of 100 cast-iron, life-size fig­ures spread along 3 ks of the fore­shore. The series stretched 2.5 ks down the coast and 1 k out to sea, with an average distance between the pieces of 500 metres, increasingly submerged and re­veal­ed as the tide comes in and goes out. The figures, 189 cm tall and weighing 650 kg, were made from casts of the artist's own body standing on the beach. All of them looking out to sea, staring at the horizon in sil­ent expect­ation.