The new Royal Academy is a rather odd title since the Royal Academy is celebrating its 250th birthday! What’s new is their fabulous extension into the neighbouring Burlington House giving them a great deal more exhibition space. There is no avoiding the excitement in the place as they proudly display that something NEW is happening!
Passing through the existing foyer you enter a series of new passageways lined with sculptures, beautifully displayed against the bare pale brickwork.
Then you are in Burlington House, now incorporated into the Royal Academy, adding grand open spaces, lofty ceilings over grand staircases and wide foyer and a calm white aesthetic.
As well as the major Tacita Dean exhibition (more on this in a blog to follow) there is an exhibition looking at how smart technologies might be changing our lives. A speaking fridge, a film projected onto a bed, challenge the distinctions we may or may not have between the private and the public. Again the while aesthetic dominates and the public is demonstrated by siting a bathroom suite outside on one of their grand balconies!
Previously the RA was famous for its wonderful special exhibitions but was lacking a space for visitors to enjoy a permanent collection, so I would only visit if a special exhibition appealed to me. Now they have a new gallery to showcase highlights from the RA collection. The Making of an Artist: The Great Tradition has some of the RA’s earlier works and looks at its own early days.
Pieces in this new gallery that caught my eye were an early Turner, displayed alongside surprising and engaging small Constables. A marble sculpture by Michelangelo was a treat as was a nearly life size copy of the Last Supper, painted about 20 years after the original. Having visited Da Vinci’s masterpiece in Milan the advantage here is that you can get really close to the work and spot interesting details such as the heated discussions at the ends of the table and the dagger worn by one of the disciples.
A painting of the Academicians in 1795 shows them surrounded by key work and rather wonderfully some of these works are in the same room now. We enjoyed tracking them down. You can see The Belvedere Torso and the Laocoon sculpture which are clearly visible in the main painting as well as self portraits by Joshua Reynolds and Angelica Kaufmann, sadly less visible in the painting. She was one of the founding members of the RA, 2 of which were women, an extraordinary achievement in 1768 and it took another 168 years for the next woman to be elected to the RA!
A lecture theatre offers leather seats and backs and sweeping tiers of seating so that we will be looking out for events to come to and enjoy this space.
All the areas described are free to enter so do head to the RA and enjoy the new and accessible extension and new lease of life for this 250 year old institution. For information on visiting and to find out what’s on check their website: https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/
But what about refreshments? There are a couple of bars, one of which will be a restaurant in due course but it was the Poster Bar that caught our eye with its posters of previous RA exhibitions and enjoyed spotting the ones we’d been to while supping a glass of wine.