Monday, 31 July 2017


You’ll spend most of the day at the Venice Biennale asking this question and not getting a very satisfactory reply. Pity the poor punter – and there were remarkably few of these there - who’s confronted with reflections, for instance, on the dreadful Romanian exhibition celebrating “multiple hypostases”. Nicely laid out we conclude. But is that art…a nice, tidy layout?

Here’s the advice

Start in the Arsenale not the Giardini and spend 2/3 of your time here. It’s fresher, younger and more fun. Better art too. Spend most of the rest of your time in the Giardini, (where the big boys exhibit their heavyweight pretentious assemblies), on the Korean stand.  Give each member of your group a Strictly-Come-Art-Reviewing card and mark each thing you visit out of ten.

Some Arsenale highlights:

  • You start with Charles’ Atlas; “The Tyranny of Consciousness” and Lady Bunny singing “What the fuck is wrong with me?” “It’s the Biennale mate” we replied. Good fun this song though.
  • The Crossroads Community (aka “The Farm) from San Francisco – worthy and heart-warming.
  • Teresa Lancasta’s colourful carpets
  • Yee Sookyung’s amazing Dragon in Wonderland “translated vases”

And then some great national exhibits

  • Argentina – a giant horse and small girl – benevolent nature fights back …great stuff (a 9)
  • Chile – Chilling display of masks on poles (an 8)
  • Georgia – war-torn, flooding house…eerily brilliant (an 8)

Some Giardini highlights

  • The stand out brilliant stand was Korea. Worth spending an hour there at least. For anyone about to visit China it’s mandatory. We thought it got a straight 9 ½.
  • Greece was interesting and provocative – “The Laboratory of Dilemmas” based on Aeschylus’ Ikidites. We gave it a 6 or 7.
  • Australia – again a 6 or 7 for a brilliant little film about refugees that was a must-see.
  • Russia got a 5. Some brilliant modelling and depiction of everything we fear and hate about communism. The lack of colour, the cloning and the violence

The rest

  • There must be people (or something) that loves Phyllida Barlow – her cat perhaps but even her cat would have reservations. It was (literally) rubbish. 
  • The USA vied with Phyllida for weird, abstract nonsense. Both got a 1.
  • As did France. Empty recording studios. “Are there normally people there?” I asked. “they’ve gone to lunch” was the scornful reply. It was a meaningless effort.
  • Romania -see above - got 3.
  • Germany (the winner of best stand and the only queue we saw all day) has Dobermans in cages outside – now where did I last see imagery like that – and inside glass floors and walls behind which actors with expressionless faces do expressionless things. Too crowded to see much, too dull to care much. Give it a 4.
  • Canada a nice cool fountain out of piles of old 2x4 off-cuts…a 5 for not annoying us.

The bar outside the entrance of the Giardini was excellent. Good loo too.  The loos inside near the Greek stand got a zero, a plain 0. GO TO THE LAVATORY BEFORE YOU ENTER THE GIARDINI.


Rage, despair and bemusement? Most of this is not art so much as “conceptual” constructions. For conceptual read “not having a real idea and then not doing it properly”. But there are exceptions. It would be worth coming to the Biennale if all you saw was the Korean stand. You’d also learn a lot about ten Asian countries.

So it’s a great day full of good, bad and ugly stuff. It may fill you with rage, despair, bemusement.

Boredom certainly not.


Monday, 24 July 2017


  1. A faraway small island
  2. Confused and grumpy
  3. Lonely and lost
Richard Hall is holidaying in Italy for a few weeks

Monday, 17 July 2017


  1. To feel European
  2. To wash my brain
  3. To read, write, sleep, eat and wonder at wonders
Richard Hall is on holiday in Italy for several weeks.

Monday, 10 July 2017


In this era of the basic psychology you find in self-improvement books, all of them full of good but somewhat simplistic ideas, the importance given to first impressions has never been greater. First impressions are the real stuff of today. It’s all about Twitter, Instagram,  fast-food and instant, simple gratification.

This week I was at the Hampton Court Flower Festival. It was a humid, dreamy, stroll-around sort of day.  As I waited for coffee this guy next to me and I started to talk. After a few minutes he said:
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

My heart sank…was he going to ask for money, my phone number or personal advice?

“Are you performing here today?”

Puzzled I asked him what form of performance he thought I might be about to do. He thought.

“Either a lecture on gardening or perhaps a more general talk on life or a magic show or (by now in desperation) perhaps in a band…playing the trombone”

So that was the impression I gave because I dressed like a performer…but did I? … I was just wearing a linen jacket and black jeans. No I don’t get it either. I’ve also been often mistaken as a vicar (once as a bishop), as an MP and as a TV celebrity by a local shopkeeper (“Oh go on tell me - you conduct an orchestra or you interview people - oh this is so frustrating…”)

But this is not about me it’s about the desperate needs we all have to pigeon-hole people and to ascribe to them a talent or role so we can as it were file them in the cabinet of our minds.

The exact and frustrating opposite happened to me recently when I was approached by someone as I walked towards a restaurant.

“Richard Hall, hullo, well crikey, how are you?”

Seeing the expression of who-the-hell-is-this on my face he told me his name. Now here’s the creepy bit. That didn’t help either. The memory box in which it resided was fused shut or alternatively he was unknown to me and confused me with another Richard Hall - there are an awful lot of us in Linkedin.
So in that instance there were no impressions let alone first impressions. In general however we are increasingly seeking quick answers. In business “ball-park” is an expression we often hear when the questioner is asking for a fast-guess and will get angrily resentful to an “I haven’t a clue” answer.

We need to absorb data intelligently rather than just quickly and develop the skill of acting very thoughtfully. Thoughtfulness and wisdom are the qualities most missed in today’s fast moving world.
I now regret I failed to entertain my fast, first-impression acquaintance at Hampton Court by singing that annoying advertising jingle:

“Go Compare, Go Compare, When in doubt check them out Go Compare”….

Instead I wished him an inspiring day and walked off. Just how lacklustre was that?

Monday, 3 July 2017


Beware old people lamenting the decline in values especially when despite their nostalgic lamentations things just get better and better. Beware me saying the era of the Beatles, Who and Cat Stevens surpass the musical efforts of Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran or White Stripes.

Just listen to “Bon Appetit” from Katy and discover originality or “Seven Nation Army” from White Stripes where a refrain has been commandeered by Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters “Oh Jer…emy Cor…byn,”….it’s a far left/Marxist political- earworm and it’s stuck in my head.  Things get different and move on but there’s still a lot of naked invention and it’s mostly wonderful… (oh shut up JC it’s still playing in my brain:-….”oh terribly boring…”)

But (always beware BUT) there’s been a perceptible downwards shift in originality, punctiliousness and love of quality that has been allowed to happen through cost-cutting  procurement experts settling for quick, cheap good-enoughness.

The benchmark for “good” is hard to find now. In a world where all presentations are competent no-one stands out. There are few bad cars so OK is a norm (no Allegros or Dolomites).  A sophistication/weariness of our palates means edible is a ubiquitous standard. Fashion falls apart yet quality is insanely expensive.

Two of the most overused derogatory expressions are “it isn’t rocket science” and “it isn’t art you know.” The answers to both of these, respectively, are “yes it is” and “well it should be”.

In a world where production efficiency and cost are the most important things we manage to restructure a premium brand like BA to a new commodity-low but on paper a more profitable business  but (big BUT) with the juice squeezed out. No more trolley services on our commuter trains - remember that spirit-lifting glass of wine on the way home after a terrible day? It’s all gone; too much cost focus; too little love.

The current furore with the Kensington Council over Grenfell is beginning to focus on cost reductions and the saving of around £300,000 by their moving from non-combustible zinc insulation to partly combustible aluminium. The Council employees presumably thought they were doing their job (save money) and hadn’t thought of the consequences. If they had they’d have gone over budget and got into terrible trouble.

We’re all spending too much time thinking about margins rather than quality of experience, taste or performance. And that’s where small businesses with their love of what they do and their customers’ reactions to it come in.

It’s time to reflect on making better, buying better quality and trying to be exceptional. This sounds unfashionable in an age of efficiency and engineered consistency but we’re spending too much time on the peripherals.

Brexit has made this worse. Having a great or a bad trade deal is irrelevant if what you are seeking to sell isn’t exceptional. Germany, after all, got great in cars by being better.

Get better. Stop squeezing out the juice. It’s the juice that gets us going not the orange.