Wednesday, July 24, 2013

50 Shades of Grey

"The last quarter-century must rank as one of the nadirs in the history of interior design. The palette of permissible wall colours consists of cool whites and greys. These constitute about 30 per cent of the colours on the Farrow and Ball paint chart, but must account for a far higher proportion of sales. They are currently featuring French Grey (a name coined in the early nineteenth century), and recommend it with a range of like-minded colours  Off-White, Clunch, Lime White, Slipper Satin, Bone, Mouse's Back and Studio Green (which looks charcoaly). That old faithful Magnolia is too warm to exist in our dirty ice age.

After ten years of planning, the new Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam opted for five shades of grey on the gallery walls (one critic christened the shade in the Mondrian room Blu-Tack). A similar range of greys has been deployed in the refurbished European Old Master galleries at the Metropolitan Museum, New York and at Tate Britain. 

Design-wise, this is an age of metal and concrete techno-minimalism, with status defined by the sheer volume of forensically lit, textureless, patternless empty space we inhabit. Metal-framed glass walls and doors, blinds and shutters, serried ranks of skylights and halogen downlighters banish sensuality, shape and shadow. When grey first became fashionable in the 1990s it was called gunmetal grey, and it became the neocon colour of choice (along with black), its macho military-industrial connotations echoed in SUVs, Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses and Norman Foster's hi-tech architecture. After the second Iraq war, the term gunmetal mysteriously vanished from the design lexicon (Castle Grey is as militant as F&B get). The American building materials and paint behemoth Sherwin-Williams now offers (among hundreds of greys) the more topical Austere, Conservative, Serious, Uncertain, Techno, Software and  for good/evil measure  Swanky, Wall Street and Dorian Gray. It can't be long before they offer Christian Grey (and Anastasia Steele), named after the sadomasochistic self-made hero of Fifty Shades of Grey."

– from James Hall's review of Paper Palaces : the Topham Collection as a source for British Neo-Classicism (exhibition at Eton College Library) in the TLS, 5 July 2013