Style | The Aesthete

Iwona Blazwick talks personal style: Part Two

The Whitechapel Gallery director draws her list of lusts to a close.

February 17 2012
Emma Crichton-Miller

My style icon is Patti Smith. I think she is just the coolest woman. She’s always had that very simple style, which is both masculine and feminine. I love the androgyny – it’s somehow ever young, and yet she’s also ageing gracefully. Her style always feels just right for the time.

An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the past year is Windsor, close to Miami, Florida, where we were doing a project [the first of three curatorial collaborations with The Gallery at Windsor]. It’s a very interesting place – because it’s tropical, it’s got scrubland, with alligators, and at the same time it’s tremendously lush, and with very luxurious communities. It was a really fascinating experience; I went from Art Basel Miami Beach, which is extremely full-on, to this quiet, remote place on the Florida seaboard. I saw how the wind had removed half of the beach in what was called a no-name storm, and then six months later it would bring it back again, or so the locals assured me.

If I didn’t live in London, the city I would live in is New York, because it’s got the same energy. It’s a centre of the art world and it’s a place where I also have many friends. I love the almost accidental design you find in the city and the quality of the things that are made there. The spaces are so exhilarating, too, especially the scale of the galleries. It makes London seem very tiny by comparison, much more domestic in scale. The quality of the museums is incredible, too; as is the High Line park on Manhattan’s West Side, which is a work of art in its own right.

An object I would never part with is a work by Rachel Whiteread, which was given to me when I left the ICA in 1993. It is a cast in white plaster made from a hot-water bottle. It looks like a baby’s torso; it is the most amazing thing. You cradle it and it feels like a very small body.

The best souvenir I have brought home is a fantastic book on Moscow Soviet architecture and also reprints of Mayakovsky postcards, which are just amazing. I was in Moscow last September as I was on the jury for the Kandinsky Prize, which is like the Turner Prize, and even though there is a turn in Russia against the Soviet period because it was so traumatic, it was thrilling to find the origins of it and remember how revolutionary it was.

The books on my bedside table include The Children’s Book by AS Byatt. It starts with a young boy who has run away from the Potteries [in the West Midlands] at the turn of the century, and he hides away in what is now the V&A – which would be my idea of bliss. At night he wanders around the museum exploring its great treasures. I found it particularly thrilling because it’s about material culture; in the early 1900s a generation of people saw the great wealth of Britain achieved through empire and industrialisation, and the huge costs of it. There was also a flight in the face of that industrialisation, back to fairies, children’s stories and escapism. I can see a parallel today in the way that kids might disappear into the sword and sorcery of video games; it’s that kind of odd nostalgia and anxiety about the present.

The site that inspires me is Marfa in Texas. This is where Donald Judd bought an entire military barracks and transformed it into a series of sites for the great minimalist sculptors of America. It is sublime: on this vast terrain, flat as a pancake, there are these enormous concrete structures, just pure, hollow cubes, which Judd built, one after another. There is something about their quiet procession across the horizon that is awe-inspiring. Inside the barracks there are works by Dan Flavin; outside there is a giant horseshoe by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen, and there is also an old school made by Ilya Kabakov. You can wander around that place for days. Chinati Foundation, PO Box 1135, 1 Cavalry Row, Marfa, TX 79843 (+1432-729 4362;

An indulgence I’d never forgo is visiting my relatives in Palm Springs each spring. They are snow birds: they live in one of the coldest parts of Canada and every Easter they go to California, and my family and I go and visit them. It’s an amazing blend of incredible weather (dry as a bone, pure sunshine); wonderful architecture (Californian 1960s modernism); and extraordinary terrain (high desert, mountains). We go hiking, and when I come back all my sinuses have cleared.

The last meal that truly impressed me was at the Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room, which is Angela Hartnett’s cooking. I had guinea fowl and the most fantastic red cabbage. It had a slightly Eastern European feel about it, a great composition of tastes, and also fantastic vegetables – broccoli with hazelnuts. 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 (020-7522 7896;

My favourite room in my house is my study. It is a real sanctuary. It’s where I do my best writing – often in the evenings – surrounded by my favourite books on art and art theory, as well as some of the limited-edition artworks from the gallery. I’m particularly attached to a drawing of a walking man by Tony Bevan, as well as architectural prints that belonged to my parents.

If I weren’t doing what I do, I would probably like to get into architecture. My parents were architects and I was just a breath away from going there myself. Also, I find a lot of contemporary architecture very disappointing. I am not saying that I would necessarily do any better, but I would like to be involved with designing environments that are more human, more about street corners and encounters and the pleasures of walking, and that combine the natural with the urban.

The last item I added to my wardrobe was a Swarovski ring. It was a gift from a friend and it is the most beautiful ring, designed by Joseph Altuzarra, from the Atelier Swarovski. It is clear resin with a crystal inside; just dazzling.