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My Cultural Life: Tim Marlow OBE

The Design Museum director on what he’s reading, watching and more

tim marlow interview
Sebastian Nevols

There are few major cultural institutions left in London that Brit art historian, writer and broadcaster Tim Marlow hasn’t had a hand in shaping. Awarded an OBE in the 2020 New Year Honours for services to the arts, he founded Tate: The Art Magazine in 1993, spent more than a decade as director of exhibitions at White Cube Gallery and five years as artistic director of the Royal Academy of Arts, before taking on the top job at London’s Design Museum a year ago. You can catch him as host of the new TV culture show Sky Arts Late, but it’s the landmark Charlotte Perriand exhibition, opening in June, that he’s looking forward to most. ‘She’s one of the most important designers of the 20th century.’ designmuseum.org

I recently discovered Vaughan Williams’ Norfolk Rhapsodies. I grew up in Derbyshire but have spent part of the summer in Norfolk for four decades. The pieces are so evocative and – like the landscape – far from being flat (that Noel Coward has much to answer for). For instant joy? Candi Staton’s Young Hearts Run Free always works.

tim marlow interview
Jacques Tati and Nathalie Pascaud in Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday
Album / Alamy

My favourite film is Point Brick by George Marlow, a talented eight-year-old filmmaker who produced it for my birthday two years ago. Guilty pleasures include Gregory’s Girl and Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, because I can still hear my father chuckle as I watch it.

I’m currently reading Leila Slimani’s Adèle, having read some of her essays and interviews, which is powerful from the outset.

I find it impossible to choose a favourite gallery. I love Renzo Piano’s Fondation Beyeler in Basel and the vastness of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, while The Accademia in Venice has one of my favourite works of art in the world: Giorgione’s The Tempest. The old Tate Gallery was where I first felt overwhelmed by art – the Rothko Room bemused and disturbed me in equal measure when I saw it as an adolescent in the late 70s.

tim marlow interview
Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland
Fondation Beyeler

My top podcast tip is David Millar’s Off Bike. He’s such a smart and engaging presenter and he’s joined by Mikkel Rasmussen, an anthropologist, so it’s never quite what you expect.

Words to live by? Horace’s ‘carpe diem’ is still important to me, but I think my old mate Harland Miller’s print Don’t Let The Bastards Cheer You Up is a nice counter-balance.

tim marlow interview
Charlotte Perriand’s Le Refuge Tonneau
Centre d’Art de Flaine

If I won the lottery I’d buy a modernist house overlooking the ocean and a Cezanne watercolour to hang inside, an early Anthony Caro sculpture for the garden and a replica of Charlotte Perriand’s ‘Le Refuge Tonneau’ where my son would play and I’d try and work.

Christmas for the last 20 years has been spent in South Africa. Various traditions seem to involve me being compelled to wear an absurd matching fancy dress costume with my son. I’ve been Buzz Lightyear, a man being eaten by a shark and a hot dog to his chips. In anticipation of a dinner with family and friends, I always cycle up Chapman’s Peak. I’m going to miss it this year for sure.

A dream day in London would be a toss-up between a Lord’s test match with the sun shining, or an afternoon at Stamford Bridge with a packed, riotous, un-distanced crowd, finished off with an evening in a noisy bar with live music.

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration January 2020

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