RA Magazine Summer 2013
Issue Number: 119
Editorial: Free Spirit
Humphrey Ocean RA's portrait of RA Magazine Editor Sarah Greenberg. The RA dances to a different tune in the summer. With the Summer Exhibition filling the main galleries and the final-year show in the RA Schools, the Academy is bursting with art and artists of every age, at every stage of their career, like a giant open house for art. Young and old, Academician and outsider, gather together to celebrate art. Even the statue of Joshua Reynolds, dressed in his summer wreath of flowers, is in a party mood – and this year he basks in the reflected glow of the giant glittering tapestry by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui cascading across the 18th-century façade of Burlington House.
This festive free spirit was in many ways initiated by the architect Sir Hugh Casson, President of the RA (1910-1989), who founded the Friends of the RA and made the Academy a friendlier, less formal place. ‘Making Friends’ celebrates his achievements, while his legacy is seen in the new Keeper’s House – a special space for Friends – opening this autumn.
Nowhere is the Academy’s artistic free spirit stronger than in the Summer Show, with its improbable mix of elite artists and unknowns. As Humphrey Ocean RA, on the hanging committee this year, points out, ‘forget those beautifully laid out exhibitions that take visitors by the hand and try to tell them what to think. The Summer Exhibition throws spectators in at the deep end. It makes them think for themselves. It’s a show that could only be curated by artists.’
This same free spirit flows through Mexico: A Revolution in Art, 1910-1940, an original exhibition that is among the first to explore the violence and vibrance of the Mexican revolution and the art it inspired, both by Mexican artists and foreigners who flocked to Mexico in the early decades of the 20th century. Artists such as Diego Rivera, who graces our cover, and Frida Kahlo are household names. But this special show also introduces less familiar names and showcases photography by 20th-century greats, such as Capa, Cartier-Bresson, Strand and Modotti.
This exhibition adds new layers to our understanding of Mexican art and culture, a subject that first captivated me just over ten years ago in the RA’s ‘Aztecs’ show. It was my debut issue as Editor of RA Magazine. This issue is my last. As I leave to take up a new job and reflect upon the past decade, many RA exhibitions have surprised and delighted – my top ten are ‘Kirchner’, ‘William Nicholson’, ‘China: The Three Emperors’, ‘Chola Bronzes’, ‘From Russia’, ‘Anish Kapoor’, ‘Wild Thing’, ‘Van Gogh’, ‘Hockney’, ‘Bronze’ – all of them revelatory. But what stands out is the eye-opening experience of working with artists, who are the heartbeat of the Academy. They talk about art as though discussing a member of their family – with an immediacy and empathy that is rare in art writing – and their views continually enhance RA Magazine.
Now more than ever, artists’ voices and visions are a vital counterpoint to the gloomy economic climate, with its relentless drizzle of fiscal cuts and austerity. They remind us to heed the voice of unreason, the counterintuitive, the uncomfortable, the visionary; to strive for the beautiful, whatever the financial weather. We can’t all be artists but we can all learn from them. This summer there is no better place to start than the Royal Academy.
— Sarah Greenberg, Editor
Publisher’s note: after editing RA Magazine since 2002, sadly Sarah Greenberg is leaving the RA to take up a new post at Christie’s. We wish her well in the future and thank her for her valuable contribution to the RA.
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