As the Summer Exhibition
gets underway, the RA truly starts to feel like an Academy. Artists and architects roam the galleries discussing, debating and hanging art – both their own and that of others – as they set about the herculean task of hanging well over 1,000 works (selected from over 10,000, in a process shown below) in a matter of weeks. This annual ritual reveals the creative, sometimes crazy, spirit that fuels this artist-run institution and has kept it going for well over two centuries.
This year’s coordinator, painter Tess Jaray RA,
ventures off the path of Summer Exhibition tradition
and moves in a more contemporary, cutting-edge direction. Having taught at the Slade for over 20 years, she has sought to encourage a broader application of emerging artists. In order to fit in as many of them as possible, and also to make a post-Hockney plea for ‘non-gigantism’, she is filling Gallery III – the grandest at the RA – with small works. The result is a lively and luminous wave of paintings across the walls.
Royal Academicians select works for the Summer Exhibition, 2012. Royal Academy of Arts/Photo Phil Sayer.
Meanwhile, the award-winning architect Chris Wilkinson RA
is hanging the architecture room
with Eva Jiricna RA and designing a novel installation for the courtyard – at once a bench and a sculpture of spiralling picture frames. Beyond the Academy, his new basketball stadium and his cable car over the Thames will capture the imagination of Olympics viewers, as will the new architecture of other RAs shown in our guide.
Such creative ferment is what the RA represents, according to the new president Christopher Le Brun PRA.
He tells art critic Matthew Collings,
‘The RA is a centre of art, run by artists, with a vision of what is best in art, right now’. He wants the RA ‘to stand up for art’ and become a forum for debate in the arts, as well as a place where art by RAs and the students in the distinguished RA Schools becomes more visible to the public. He calls the RA ‘a place for art and artists’, a phrase that has inspired the refreshed RA visual identity, to be launched in June. Our new magazine masthead offers a hint.
We have responded to Le Brun’s ideas about debate by launching a new opinion column. Grayson Perry RA has written
its inaugural piece on the fraught and fascinating subject of taste. His vibrant, original drawing on our cover both celebrates and subverts icons of middle-class British taste – from the RA Summer Exhibition to Radio 4 and the National Trust.
The eclectic taste of art collector Robert Sterling Clark is revealed
in the RA’s exhibition
of paintings from the Clark Art Institute. The show includes Impressionist masterpieces by Monet, Renoir and Degas, but it also features unexpected paintings like a blowsy Bouguereau nude, which might cause eyebrows to raise. Clark, though, loved them all: ‘I like things that are well painted,’ he said simply, and he developed his own taste and collection through reading and looking, without the advice of dealers.
Camila Batmanghelidjh’s flamboyant style is unmistakable and her larger-than-life persona provides a beacon of warmth for traumatised, unwanted children. Her charity, Kids Company, uses art to help transform their lives; the RA works with them and has given free use of the galleries in 6 Burlington Gardens for a moving exhibition of work
by Kids Company children. ‘If you don’t deal with trauma it acts like a time bomb in the brain,’ says Batmanghelidjh.
‘Art provides a safe way to release things. The places that artists go and the places where children go are similar. Both deal with the dark and dangerous, but both also know how to respond with childlike joy.’ Art matters, and what better place to encounter it than here at the RA, this place for art and artists.