Piccadilly W1J 0BD
Friday August 10 2018
More return visits? Yes and no. We included the Royal Academy three years ago – it is of course an institution which holds ‘special exhibitions’, often two at a time, based on single artists or themed by country or materials –‘bronze ‘ for e.g. Probably it is most famous for the annually held ‘Summer Exhibitions’ and that is what we posted last time
Three years down the line we decided to take a look at this year’s offerings but also to take the opportunity to visit the Royal Academy’s new and newly opened extension
This year’s show was co-ordinated by Grayson Perry (everyone’s favourite modern potter and commentator) and he asked several of his fellow academicians to curate or co-curate each of the rooms. Inevitably they choose each other’s works so instead of the usual habit of clustering the recent works of say Ken Howard in one place they are scattered throughout. Each room is a glorious and colourful mixture of works and mediums (media?) from traditional oils and pencil sketches through to installations, videos and what one might loosely term sculptures. There is the usual room of architectural models both projects and familiar completed works.
The downstairs of the Academy building has nine (?) large galleries grouped round a central octagonal room with several openings. Upstairs were later opened the newer Sackler galleries – a more intimate space for smaller works and exhibitions. During the summer show this is largely for the open submissions – that is works sent in by the general public. To be honest the ‘hang’ (‘When did this become a noun?’ asked my linguist friend) is so dense it is somewhat off-putting and you would need to know what you were looking for to linger here…
The ‘new’ building is what I remember from the dim and distant past as the ethnographic and anthropological collections from the British museum. The only visit we made was on a rainy Sunday in winter when you could still park free and we plus two small children had an underwhelming and forgettable afternoon. Evidently the British Museum closed its ‘branch’ down and the building stood empty for some time.
The Royal Academy has therefore acquired a vast space, which must more than double its capacity.
Obviously there is additional space for toilets cafes, shops and meeting rooms for the Academicians and an impressive lecture hall. The staircase and stairwell is the size of a not so modest house. The exterior has been cleaned and this work was still in progress. It will be interesting to see how the spaces will be used.
The two buildings are connected by a tunnel and a bridge (lifts are provided for the short flights needed here) and the underground space – very crypt-like – is now cleaned exposed brick. Currently this tunnel/corridor displays the various statues and bodies ( some of them ‘flayed’ to expose the underlying musculature) that the academy’s School has used to teach ‘Life Drawing’. There will also be a space for the current students to display their work.
As you cross over you pass over a small bridge over a courtyard and enter into the next gallery so as to minimise the ‘break in continuity of the viewing experience. If you then go down you can appreciate the full size of the new acquisition.
So there you have it – a new museum/gallery for London.
The photos include some from the building and a very few of the most eye-catching pieces from the Summer Show – this year’s has been a good visit (it closes this weekend) as ‘there is something for everyone’ especially children as it offers variety rather than a serious themed contextualised educational offering. Let’s hope the RA follows Perry’s example in future Summer shows.