Jonathan Meades

The art of menus

There is, of course, no endeavour, no craft, no profession, no trade that neglects to ‘reflect society’. This is a commonplace. The collective narcissism of considerate builders, for instance, claims that hod carriers and brickwork reflect society. The contention of Menu Design in Europe is kindred. Graphic artists, restaurateurs, decorators and chefs have, through two

What next for Notre Dame?

Notre Dame is only important from a Shakespeare’s-birthplace point of view. Architecturally it is a nullity beside the cathedrals of Beauvais and Laon, Albi and Marseille, Rouen and Clermont-Ferrand (a sinister marvel of black tufa). The ashes of the cathedral are now the site of a proxy struggle between some of the greatest fortunes on

What you see is what you get

The Wellcome Trust puts on some of the most engaging exhibitions in London and holds in its permanent collection a number of fine works. Its roots are in biomedical research, but those roots have, with modification, sprouted so many disciplines and areas of tangential enquiry that it makes perfect sense to have commissioned Iain Sinclair

The Bilbao effect

Twenty years ago I wrote of the otherwise slaveringly praised Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao: I’m in a minority of, apparently, one. It strikes me as a consummate gimmick… a fantastically elaborate and rather wearisome joke. Has mankind spent all these centuries perfecting Euclidean geometry and orthogonal engineering in order to have it overthrown by massively

Concrete cuckoo

The Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council provides a salutary example of a tiny ‘elite’ foisting ‘anti-elitist’ practices on the ‘non-elite’ — and coming a cropper. Vatican II’s dates are important. The Council was convened in 1962 and concluded in December 1965. These were the high years of the most uncompromising architectural modernism and, just as

Wall eyed

Any impressively long wall is bound to cause us to recall the midfield dynamo and philosopher John Trewick. In 1978 Big Ron Atkinson took his bubble-permed West Bromwich Albion team to China on some sort of goodwill tour. The lads’ diplomacy evidently rested in their feet, for when Trewick was asked by the BBC crew

Wet dream

Utopia dons some unlikely guises, crops up in some odd places. On the sea wall a couple in their teens stood clutching their baby and gazing half a mile across the opaque river to where streets run down to the shore: spires and warehouses, inns and gables announced a town. The boy asked me if

Gaudy! Bright! Loud! Fun!

In any epoch most of what is built is mediocre, though we may not realise it at the time because our neophilia persuades us of merit where there is none. Equally, we may fail to distinguish the few exceptions — those instances where architects and builders have ascended to a higher standard of mediocrity or

The art of Jonathan Meades

Ape Forgets Medication: Treyfs and Artknacks Londonewcastle Project (28 Redchurch Street, E2), until 23 April Process, means, method: it was these rather than the results which initially fascinated me. There was an unmistakable exhilaration in discovering that I was not merely learning a new language but that I was creating a language peculiar to myself. Given that

A 50-year infatuation

The subject of the least characteristic essay in this engrossing collection of meditations on painters, painters’ lives, painting and reactions to painting is René Magritte — whose best work David Sylvester rather rashly claimed induces ‘the sort of awe felt in the presence of an eclipse’. Julian Barnes discusses what he calls the artist’s doctrine

Dedicated follower of fascism?

The ‘revelations’, 50 years after he drowned, that Le Corbusier was a ‘fascist’ and an anti-Semite are neither fresh nor startling. Indeed they’re old hat. And it defies credibility that the authors of three recent books about this tainted genius were ignorant of what anyone with even the frailest interest in architects’ foibles and tastes

The more deceived

Louis the Decorator and his chums in the antiques trade use the word ‘airport’ adjectivally and disparagingly. It signifies industrially produced folkloric objects (prayer mats, knobkerries, masks, toupins, necklaces, tribal amulets, djellabas etc) which are typically sold by hawkers to departing holidaymakers. This is the basest level of fakery and is ignored by the otherwise


As a purveyor of lairy souvenirs Venice outdoes even Lourdes. The scores of shops and booths that peddle this lagoonal kitsch are manned by graduates of hard-sell whose market-barker schtick does not need to include descriptions as their goods are self-explanatory. Every other year they coexist with a different sort of operation: the galleries, ateliers,

Le French bashing has spread to France. Are things really that bad?

The French for French-bashing is le French bashing. This verbally costive nation is at it once again, torpidly borrowing an approximately English expression rather than coining its own. Such bashing is not an exclusively Anglo-Saxon practice. There is indigenous bashing. At least there is Éric Zemmour, whose salutary Le Suicide français was published a couple