David Sylvester, who contributed regularly to this paper, died last June. People who worked with him usually agree that he was the most engaged and patient looker at art they ever knew. Robert Rosenblum rightly says, in David Sylvester: The Private Collection, that there was something comical about his high seriousness, but it is also true that, 'unlike the rest of us ironists', he could make one feel (or at least feel one ought to feel) that 'art might matter more than life itself.' When, as a collector and curator, he chose and displayed objects, the ordering, spacing and lighting often led you to see and understand them better than you ever had before. His egotism would have been intolerable had it not been accompanied by doubt and curiosity. He was a wonderful interviewer, willing to ask obvious questions as well as clever ones - and to listen to the answers. Moreover he invited anyone who happened to be around to take part in the game of discrimination; all his friends were rung at one time or another to have a sentence read out for criticism or confirmation. Any visit to his house was likely to involve a discussion about the placing of a sculpture or just how high on the wall a tapestry should hang. He loved arguing about who was the greatest this or that - he was passionate about cricket, perhaps his penchant for making dream teams came from there. In his own case there are no lists to be made. No one else was playing quite the same game.
LRB 7 February 2002 | PDF Download