Tuesday 2 October 2012

Review of RA Now at 6 Burlington Gardens

RA Now
6 Burlington Gardens
11 October – 11 November 2012

When the RA acquired 6 Burlington Gardens back in 2001, they had ambitious plans for how to use the building. Sadly, these had to be scaled down when they failed to receive Heritage Lottery Funding. When private funders kept asking what exactly the Royal Academicians themselves were doing to help the project, however, the idea of an auction was born. Out of this grew an exhibition, RA Now, the first ever in the 244-year history of the Academy to showcase works exclusively by its members.

Royal Academicians are elected into the junior member category by pre-existing members. Currently there are 80 of them. At the age of 75, they progress to the senior category. In addition, there are a number of Honorary Royal Academicians, elected by the Academy’s General Assembly. RA Now displays works by 121 current Academicians, and contains a wide range of styles, media, and generations. Rather like a pared down Summer Exhibition, without the clutter of public submissions, the show was co-ordinated by Allen Jones RA, who was keen to create untypical groupings of works, capturing the absolute diversity of the members.

Room one focuses on sculpture, and ranges from one of the doyens of the Academy, Anthony Caro, with Fold Centre (1984), a rusted steel workbench-like construction, made after a visit to Morocco and seeing the roofs of buildings there, through Richard Long’s Niger Drawing (2009), also inspired by an African adventure (it is a washboard he found and marked as he continued on his travels), to the most recent generation of Academicians, including Cornelia Parker (with a drawing made of snake venom and its antidote, Poison and Antidote Drawing, 2010) and Grayson Perry, who made a new pot especially for this show, depicting the (unlabelled, but it’s great fun to try to guess who is who) Academicians at one of their meetings (Bad Portraits of Establishment Figures, 2012).

Room two focuses on photography and the figurative. Antony Gormley’s Standing Matter XXXIV (2011) stands in stark contrast next to Allen Jones’ own piece, Enchanteresse (2007), whilst Gillian Wearing’s Self-portraits as Woman with Bandaged Face (1995-2012) have more than a little in common with Honorary RA Cindy Sherman’s Untitled (1980/2000), depicting herself, in sepia, dressed as both a doctor and a nurse, playing, of course, on gender stereotypes and issues of identity.

Room three ranges through some of the recognisable stars, with Jeff Koon’s ubiquitous monkey (albeit not in 3D, Monkey Train, 2007), and the obligatory Tracey Emin monoprint (A Fool, 2011). Jenny Saville, one of the youngest members, has donated one of her recent series of pencil studies, Mother and Child Study II (2009), where, based on Renaissance images of the Virgin and Child, she depicts her pregnant self and her son, as he struggles to escape her grip. An interesting contrast is also set up between the very different representations of leaves by David Hockney (Autumn Leaves, 2008, an inkjet printed computer drawing which just predates his foray into iPad drawings) on the one hand, and Gary Hume (Untitled, 2008/2011, a mixture of charcoal drawing, UV Perspex, and gloss paint) on the other.

Room four is turned over to large works. Broadly gestural and abstract, it includes the likes of Barbara Rae (Andalusia, 2009), Albert Irvin (Harmony, 2009), and Gillian Ayres (Cartouche I, 2001). A celebration of colour and scale, and a perfect use of the newly acquired lofty space.

Finally, down one level, room five is filled with architectural sketches and models, lest we forget some of the prestigious achievements of Academicians in this field. A sketch for David Chipperfield’s Neues Museum in Berlin hangs proudly above a scale model of Norman Foster’s 30 St. Mary Axe (the “Gherkin”) and the unrealised Museum of Tolerance by Frank O. Gehry.

An auction of the works will be held on 9 October, and the rest will be for sale throughout the month-long exhibition. Whether it is a financial success or not (and surely it can’t fail to be with the calibre of works included), the exhibition is a timely reminder of the skill and range of the members of this honoured Academy.


Grayson Perry RA
Bad Portraits of Establishment Figures, 2012
Ceramic pot
H. 78 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery

Jeff Koons Hon RA
Monkey Train, 2007
Silkscreen with archival pigmented inkjet on Somerset paper (edition of 40 plus 10 artist’s proofs)
83.5 x 66.3 cm
© Jeff Koons, courtesy of the artist

Gary Hume RA
Untitled, 2008/2011
Charcoal on paper, UV Perspex and gloss paint
90.5 x 130 cm

Norman Foster RA
30 St Mary Axe: scale model, 2012
Black Perspex, ProtoGen resin, silver plating
15 x 15 x 38 cm
Foster + Partners

Frank O. Gehry Hon. RA
Museum of Tolerance, Massing Model, 2009
Basswood, vinyl, microply, acrylic
10.16 x 25.40 x 43.18cm
Photography by dbox

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