Roche Museum, June 2017
The brochure for the David Roche Foundation notes that Roche (1930 – 2013) established it in 1999 “to be the recipient and custodian of the exceptional collection of antiques, paintings and objets d’art accumulated by him over his lifetime and to be preserved for future generations.”
It is true that the museum holds some 3000 pieces, curated in the V & A style (one thing on top of another) with some strong pieces – porcelain by Chelsea, Meissen, Worcester and Sèvres, curious metal appliances, some Fabergé curios and pleasing period furniture…
The Varnished Culture attended on a chilly June night to be warmed by an affectionate, intimate and amusing talk by Museum Director Martyn Cook, a lifelong friend (though as he wryly pointed out, not in the horizontal sense) of Roche. Cook gave a wide-ranging review of Roche’s world-wide and expensive peregrinations, where he would buy almost anything that took his fancy, from Empire style to late Hermitage. As Paul Keating noticed, when he opened the Museum in 2016, David “could have narrowed the scatter gun a bit,” but the attraction here is the highly individual, highly questionable taste of an interesting chap with the time and money to satisfy his tastes and caprices.
Unlike the SA Art Gallery’s showing of a handful of pieces, which benefited from the less-is-more principle (see above), the Roche Museum is a garish pantheon of tat – like Harold Steptoe met Gianni Versace. The statuary is truly horrendous – seemingly straight from the set of The Birdcage – and likely to cause Alexandros of Antioch to spin in his mausoleum. The paintings are worse, if that is possible – shocking, florid daubs of nymphs and fauns, worse even than the appalling Renoir.
But, despite that, you really should go and see it. Kitsch on such a ludicrous, excessive and sumptuous level would gladden the hearts of Oscar Wilde or Jeff Koons.