Anthony Mottram’s 60th Birthday – the Final Phase

Friday 1st December 2017

The Gala 60th Birthday of Anthony Mottram reached a climax in Prague. I flew out with Val. Beforehand I was in London, back to back dinners. Merle Barr summoned Bruce McBain to show him her estimates. She had at least 10. The desperate struggle to get her roof light replaced goes on. Of course, Bruce McBain said the whole roof should be glass and why didn’t Merle fork £10,000, plus knock through and re-model the whole house while about it. Merle returned to her estimates in their designated file: she couldn’t believe the disparities. Who do they think they are, these people? None could be settled on, not even the cheapest.

The next night Merle re-loomed at the Warehouse Collection, where Angus Willis presented a massive Roast Beef dinner array: all known trimmings and accompaniments. Val was there, after arrival by train from Hastings to over-night with me so as to be poised for boarding at London City Airport the next morning. It was a miracle. He covered the entire history of textiles with Olive Wildish, who also dined at the Warehouse and designs textiles. I could hear him proclaiming: ‘The Assyrians… but on the other hand, in Matabele Land…..’

We limo-ed straight to the Palais from the airport then went immediately round to the Mausoleum/Museum apartment for dusting and freshening. The building work wasn’t finished in time, the great expansion scheme into the next door apartment, the second such take-over. Dust everywhere and raw edges. The great moving library shelves (hydraulics equivalent to those levering Tower Bridge up and down) which will seal off the newly colonised apartment rather as Tutankamen’s tomb was sealed, a bare metal skeleton. I dusted a glass trolley loaded with glass objects. Val refused a duster totally. In the evening, it being the actual day of Anthony Mottram’s 60th birthday, we dined privately: only about 12 in the party. The restaurant was beyond the Plecnik church – once a remote part of Prague where only a few ventured. But when we got there it was occupied by another birthday party, a mere 24th birthday. The restaurant had failed miserably. There was very nearly a tremendous bearing down of Western greatness upon the wretched former Eastern Bloc, as well as a scheme to bulldoze the 24th birthday out of the way. But somehow we were crammed in: the tiny kitchen didn’t collapse under the strain of 12 extra. In fact it triumphed. Czech food was once filthy. But no more.

The next day Val and I set off for the Muller House. It was to be a rare visit, classic Poor Little Rich Gay – metro and bus to a remote residential district. The Muller House is by Adolf Loos. It was built in 1930. Val had read about it in the Guardian. When we got there it turned out to be so rare we couldn’t go in for three weeks. Booked up. Only a tiny number admitted. We stood outside it bantering with a German couple also in quest of admission: how many such huddles must there be outside less well-known but important examples of 20th century architecture, random persons thrown together, exchanging experiences of visits, successful or otherwise. These two had penetrated the Tugendhat Villa at Brno which is by Mies van der Rohe and requires booking 3 months in advance.

The outside of the Muller House is extraordinary enough: basically a bare white cube with attachments, asymmetrical arrangement of windows, bold empty expanses of wall and the incredible recessed entrance with a sudden outburst of rich honey-coloured stone as if carved out there from the white cube like a cave and including a bench resembling a tomb. Perhaps Adolf Loos also had the sealed tomb of Tutankamen in mind – the treasures within. Which we couldn’t see.

In a separate building there was a visitor centre and I had a phase of thinking it was part of the Tugendhat Villa because there were so many photos of it plus a model. Finally the penny dropped that the Tugendhat Villa is in Brno, about 200 miles away with a 3 month waiting list for admission. Anyway, Val and I made the best of it: we poured over the displays and watched a film about the restoration for Muller House. Vaclav Havel arrived for the opening drinks party: you could see the whippy waiters poised for service in the roof garden. In the end, we felt we’d as good as visited both villas. Muller is sumptuous inside, Arts and Crafts-esque, Klimt-like, wood and gold, while the Tug is pared down, glass and white walls. Although both built at a similar time.

We lunched at Prague Bake House in the Old Town. How Prague has changed! Many expensive cars passed by. The population is young people in important black clothes. In Old Town Square, there was Bruce McBain himself, just landed from London for the Anthony Mottram 60th Gala that evening, accompanied by Ned Czernowksi and Peter Achyra, those great boarders, Club Class Lounge on air miles as well as Club Class itself, not just the lounge. I told our morning story, lamenting that not all buildings achieve the standard of the Muller House and the Tug Villa at Brno. ‘Oh no,’ said Bruce McBain, ‘that wouldn’t go at all. You can’t have too many significant buildings. If every one was by Frank Geary it would be unbearable.’

So wise. We returned to the Palais to rest before the great evening gala.

Posted Friday, December 1, 2017 under Adrian Edge day by day.

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