Paul Noble – new work – interiors

Paul Noble’s latest work is now showing at the Gagosian Gallery in San Francisco – [Link]

G is for ear

Nobson New Town, Paul’s extraordinary world, appears in the drawings he has produced since the mid 1990s. I met Paul in 2013, wrote an essay for the great exhibition of his work at Boijmans Van Beuningen in 2014 [Link below], and we published an extended conversation about Nobson online – [Link] [Link – the exhibition]

One of the later large drawings of Nobson’s landscape/cityscape included a large leg emerging from a forest of leafless trees. In the foreground was a door in a frame, without a wall, just as the leg is without a body. In this latest series Paul is taking us into the interior world of Nobson by means of leg and door. It’s quite surreal, with word play, body parts, closed doors, and clocks stuck at Nobson’s universal time of 10.45 am, the time that daylight strikes an angle of 45 degrees. And a giant magic wand.

Wonderful stuff in the way of world building and cosmology.

Here are some posts and writings on and with Paul –

[Link] – Paul Noble – artist|archaeologist

The archaeological world of artist Paul Noble – a version of the essay I wrote for the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition of Paul’s work at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in 2014. Also at – [Link]

[Link] [Link] [Link] – Hylography

[Link] – media materialities

[Link] – Nobson Newtown – the guide

urban futures – the cultural field

For nearly ten years I have been serving on the International Advisory Board in Rotterdam [Link] – offering comment on the city’s life and plans.

This year we turned to culture in the city. A group of us joined a year long process to reach out to stakeholder groups and institutions, to the people of Rotterdam to listen, to bring us all together to reflect upon what might be done to culturally enrichen the city.

When I first joined the Board it was primarily, and appropriately, concerned with economic development in this biggest oil port in the world and the shipping gateway to Europe. It is now lost on no one that cultural values, personal, class, ethnic, gender and community identities, cultural movements, indeed cultural heritage lie at the heart of political economy. Shifts in employment, jobs, manufacturing, corporate culture connect with an IT facilitated “gig” economy (and all its implications), challenges to empower people and organizations to be open and flexible, emphasizing the need more than ever for us to embrace life long learning, a culture of learning. Great movements, migrations of people are again shaking up comfortable notions of roots and belonging. Cultural diversity is ever more apparent as an issue in a globalist connected world. Nearly 200 languages are spoken in Rotterdam.

How might we put people and their cultures first in our collective efforts to face the future with creative competency?

This is a key agenda item in our Foresight and Innovation group within Stanford’s Center for Design Research – our Urban Futures project.

Is it a matter of cultural “policy”? Well, of course, this is part of the landscape of national and city governance. Though a common notion is that of the “cultural sector”, we emphasized that culture is not just the arts and arts institutions, while addressing how the city, the municipality with its elected representatives and executive might look to cultural policy. And public subsidy for the arts, for example, is substantial in the Netherlands.

Above all, and this is what I really appreciated, is the cultural vitality of the city. This shows in its history – the rebuilding after the Second World War that has encompassed extraordinary architectural manifestation this last 20 years, and continues with the new Collections Depot for Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen [Link]. It shows in the informal cultures as well as the institutions, businesses and many organizations like V2 or MVRDV, the extraordinary small studios and creative businesses I have been so lucky to meet over the years.

Vitality suggests energy, and this we highlighted in our report. What is “appropriate” cultural energy? We introduced the importance of “authenticity” – a concept contested precisely, I suggest, because of its importance. Above all “energy” – a dynamic capacity to act creatively – relates to agency – the capacity to simply get things done. We must always ask awkward questions of agency – who is being empowered, and to what ends?

Culture is well conceived as an energy “field” – charged, intersecting, vectors of connection and connectivity, of potentialities and realizations within which our experiences, our creative efforts take shape and form.

And such a cultural field is not at all necessarily harmonious, of course. Electro-cultural charges can interfere with each other. Disagreement is the heart of diversity. We suggested the city take all this well into account – looking to foster manifolds of networking and interconnectivity – the conversations and collaborations that are our cultural milieu.

Here is the report.


Building the new Market Hall

the future of the museum

The new Collections Depot for Rotterdam’s Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam is under construction.

I visited a couple of weeks ago and had a chat with Sjarel Ex, Director of Boijmans.

This is opening the doors of the museum and gallery in a new way – all 150,000 items in the collection will be available to everyone in this great treasure bowl, reflecting the city, a singing bowl, as Connie Svabo sees it, resonating, re-sounding, punctuating a city mindful of itself. A project in Archive 3.0, or more – as Gabriella (Giannachi) would have it [Link].

There are more comments about this game-changing project, this daring cultural innovation on my Vimeo site – [Link]

Boijmans has an extraordinary record for addressing key questions about the future of museums and art galleries – for example, I was proud to be part of curator Annemartine Van Kesteren’s extraordinary “design Column” – a series of “critical design” exhibitions commenting on current events through the works of design studios – [Link]

Director Sjarel Ex and architect Winy Maas of MVRDV are coming to Stanford in December to share their ideas. Watch out for the events – a conversation and a workshop December 4,5,6.

Here is what we are saying:

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam is one of the top art and design museums of Europe – [Link]

Under construction is a new extension that will change the way we think of art galleries and museums. We are calling it a Collections Depot.

Art is one of the greatest catalysts for change; it has the rare capacity to move us, to forge new connections, to inspire and provoke new ideas. Yet people rarely associate art museums with innovation. In Rotterdam we aim to change this by creating a new kind of building with the highest density of art works on earth, with 100% of our collection available to visitors through rich user-centered experiences, facilitated by the latest tech, where we can all connect our diverse interests in art, culture and design with our different hopes and visions for the future.

We invite you to join us in designing this museum of the future.

Why art matters

What truly moves people? A great painting, a singular sculpture or piece of music, a remarkable piece of design. Art has the rare capacity to speak to all of us about what really matters. Art reminds us of what it is to be human, what makes us who we are, and what propels us forward. Museums are laboratories of ideas and hubs of marvelous experience where creative effort from all periods and places can help us understand better our own place in the world.

Democratizing art

Museums worldwide show only 8% of their art to the public. The rest is locked away. At Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, when the time came to upgrade our storage, we let our imagination run free. We imagined a place where 100% of the collection is available to everyone, where people will be free to explore on their own, making their way through a buzzing beehive of activity where art works packed and unpacked, restored and studied in dazzling quantities.

We imagined how we might open up the museum to complete democratic access, with everyone as a curator.

Rotterdam architect Winy Maas, co-founder of MVRDV, one of the world’s great architecture studios, has designed an extraordinary forty-meter high silvered bowl — the worlds first public art Collections Depot that breaks with museum standards and gives unlimited access to 150,000 treasures.

In 2018 the building will stand tall. We are now addressing the challenge to make the museum experience completely transformative for everyone.

Let your imagination run free

For this dream, there are no templates, no rules, no precedents. In true Rotterdam spirit, we are free to be pioneers – to do things differently. How might we navigate through a warehouse filled with more art than any other place on earth, and without a curator?

We invite you to push our ideas forward, to strengthen, challenge and question them. To make us reach higher so that we can connect with more people in more profound, moving and enduring ways.

Let your imagination run free. What kind of experience do you dream of?

More about the collections of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Located in the heart of the city of Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is one of the oldest museums in the Netherlands, built from the passions of private collectors. It is the only art museum in The Netherlands where visitors can travel through time, exploring art from the 14th century to the 21st; from Bosch, Rembrandt and Cézanne to Dalí and contemporary Dutch Design. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is international in focus, including works by American artists such as Warhol, Rothko, Basquiat and Serra and is widely known for its design collection, surrealist art, for its prints and drawings, and for its daring experiments in exhibition design. [Link]

design and antiquarians – 5

This is a comment on the seminar series currently running between Stanford and Bard Graduate Center. [Link] [Link]

Our exploration of the world of things continues.

This week the theme is


We visited Pincoff’s Hotel in Rotterdam to talk with Sjarel Ex, Director of Museum Boijmans van Beuningen


Rotterdam – Winy Maas’s design for a new collections building for Museum Boijmans van Beuningen

Managing and conserving a collection are specialized museum activities that are usually carried out behind the scenes. The Collection Building will give the works in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s collection greater public visibility. The building will contain an expertise centre, where restoration and other treatments are carried out on works and research is conducted into the collection. Projections and multimedia systems will make it possible for anyone who is interested to see what is going on. But the museum wants to do more than just manage and conserve its own collection. It also wants to establish a public-private partnership by offering private collectors the opportunity to keep their collections in the Collection Building, and in so doing to make use of the museum’s expertise. It will be possible to exhibit works from the collections in modest exhibition areas. Finally the museum will create awareness among younger people about the importance of our cultural heritage by means of targeted educational programmes. This will make the Collection Building more than a depository where the museum ‘just’ keeps a collection. Visitors will be able to see the work actively being done on the collection, and this will give it a higher profile among members of the public and collectors.


chorography – media materialities

Gallery – [water pigment paper]

Working on my text accompaniment to the guide to Paul Noble’s art work, on display currently at Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, has had me reflecting again on just how we might describe an encounter, in this case with a world of the imagination, a curiously enigmatic cosmopolis.

(As an archaeologist I am constantly encountering places, but aren’t they all so informed by the imaginary, both personal and cultural?)

While I chose a kind of glossary of an itinerary through Nobson (In Parenthesis [Link]), I have found it so appropriate to look again at the descriptive efforts of the English chorographers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – how curate John Wallis, my favorite, described the county of Northumberland in the 1750s and 60s, its natural history and antiquities, with an attitude and style intimately human, observant of local detail, and almost alchemical in its appreciation of the qualities of place and the physical environment.

Paul draws in pencil graphite on an epic scale of minute detail, and shared with me one of the figures of his own encounter with Nobson Newtown – Mefisty. Me – fist – Mephistopheles – Mefisty is the product of Paul’s pact with graphite, laboring over drawings twenty feet high and as wide – labor that takes its toll on hand and wrist as graphite is manipulated into graphic form [Link].

This intimate engagement with an allotrope of carbon I find quite haunting – resonant too, of course, of all those mythical Promethean encounters with earth and clay.

For many years too I have been fascinated by another encounter with earth, clay and minerals – ceramics. I have documented this, and again the challenge of describing the ineffable, working in and on clay, but, frankly, with only limited success. My books and many papers on ancient Greek ceramics always seemed so wide of the mark – when I was very aware of what went into the design and making. (And now, over the summer, Helen is downstairs in the studio, working on her extraordinary experiments in studio ceramic terra sigillata [Link].)

Add to this some recent reflections, reported in this blog, on form and substance, Aristotelian matters of hylomorphism, the way form emerges to make sense (this being another central topic of Paul’s Nobson Newtown) [Link]. And how to document, to describe ruin through photography – [Link].

I suggested that we might connect an experience, of encountering a site for example, with an expanded notion of the aesthetic (beyond the typical association of the word with the arts). It is only through situated experience that we encounter things. Thinking, sensing, feeling, evaluating – this is the aesthetic. This is how I understand Kant’s transcendental aesthetic – that aesthetic elements are foundational for knowledge: only in space and time, that is through experience and intuition, can objects and places first be given to us  [Link].

So I find myself returning to my earliest field experiences in the north east of England and my longest running project of offering a description of the English-Scottish borders from earliest times.


Photography, planning, mapping and other forms of graphical documentation have always been, for me, ways of working through such issues of documentation and description – photo work as much about photographic encounter as about the images produced. Planning and drawing because these direct attention.  Attempts to handle the qualities of place and material artifact – quiddity and haecceity  [Link].

This is less a matter of illustration, and more about the way setting up a photo (viewpoint, composition, color balance, contrast control, printing and surface),  making marks (inkjet to technical pencil), manipulating pigment, is part of an encounter, a response perhaps, or a responsibility, even a calling.

Paul’s graphite (and now marble and clay and more materials) and Helen’s clays and oxides have shifted my attention to water, pigment, paper – any encounter with a landscape such as the English-Scottish borders needs to retrace the tracks of Romantic watercolorists.

And watercolor is precisely transparent – revealing every manipulation of pigment and water on paper.

Accent Arts, a fabulous supply store in Palo Alto, stocks a range of traditional pigment paints (Daniel Smith and Rublev) – remarkable materials, minerals and metal oxides and compounds that behave in very distinctive ways. Far from the definition of color we are so used to on screen (RGB percentages, whatever) or in print (CMYK et al).

How mark making is a design medium

– the practice defining the object. De-sign. How gesture, hand and instrument (brush, pen), maneuvering pigment in water upon a surface do not deliver representations or illustrations of anything in particular, though they are generated by close attention to both encounter and also the transformation/translation inherent in any kind of account or description.







Gallery – [water pigment paper]

Nobson – the guide

The catalogue for the Paul Noble exhibition at Boijmans van Beuningen has arrived – superbly designed by Esther de Vries – [Link] [Link]

Not so much a catalogue as a guide to Paul’s cosmopolis …