The Royal Academy of Arts

The Royal Academy of Arts

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Redevelopment of Burlington Gardens

The RA has always been pretty pleased with itself. Now, having spent £56m expanding into what was the Museum of Mankind, and increasing its size by 70%, it could writhe with insufferable smugness. We are told that there will be free areas to which the public have access, such as The Collection Gallery displaying some of their own 46,000 works, including the extraordinary 16th century copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo, which has been disappointedly hung on a white background with distracting panel joints.

To get to the other building from the Piccadilly entrance, one goes under the main staircase, down some steps and into The Vaults, which have been cleaned to an eerie bone-white, the perfect backdrop for a cast of the crucified body of a flayed murderer, known as an écorché. After crossing the RA Schools’ area, there is a small chamber called the Weston Studio at the foot of a steep flight that takes one back up to the ground floor of Burlington Gardens across the Weston Bridge, which overlooks The Lovelace Courtyard. Phew! One wonders what the 50-odd students will make of ‘strangers’ infiltrating their zone, but as their tuition is gratis and paid for out of the The Royal Academy of Arts Redevelopment of Burlington Gardens exhibitions put on upstairs, maybe they feel they should not complain too much. The additional space includes the raked, semi-circular, 250-seat Benjamin West Lecture Theatre, very much like an old operating theatre, and The Gabrielle exhibitions put on upstairs, maybe they feel they should not complain too much.

The additional space includes the raked, semi-circular, 250-seat Benjamin West Lecture Theatre, very much like an old operating theatre, and The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries, which were housing Tacita Dean’s Landscape, the most boring film-maker since Jocelyn Moorhouse or even Andy Warhol. There are 80 Academicians at any one time, all elected by their peers, plus a further 47 Seniors, made when they reach the age of 75, which makes way for newer and younger artists. They elect replacements through ‘natural wastage,’ to keep the numbers up. There are also 30 Honorary Academicians, including such artists and architects as Jim Dine, Anselm Kiefer, Ai Weiwei, Renzo Piano, Jeff Koons and Frank Gehry. The Academicians look forward to the Summer Show as a pig looks forward to snuffling for truffles, as they are allowed up to 6 pieces each and pay no submission fee, whereas the poor punter has to fork out £35 for each work, which has gone up from £25 last year, and there are around 20,000 of them. Even with one submission per person, that amounts to £700,000. Ker-ching. The RA take 30% of every work sold, plus VAT, and last year there were 1,090 original works, plus prints, and this year, with more space in which to hang, they expect 1,200 works, of which 800 will be from the public. A percentage of the surplus from the Summer Show is ploughed back into the Schools.

Burlington House is a seventeenth century Grade-II-listed building, while Burlington Gardens is a mid-Victorian edifice, which first housed the University of London, then, in turn, the Civil Service Commission, the British Academy and the much-loved and sorely-missed Museum of Mankind. As part of the British Museum, until 1970, it was purchased in 2001 by the RA. Various schemes were discussed over the years as how to join the two buildings, without compromising the space taken up by the RA Schools. David Chipperfield RA was appointed to redevelop the new-ish acquisition in 2008 and building works started in 2015, the completion due to coincide with the 250th anniversary of the RA. Hurrah! At first glance, the staircase up to the bridge from The Weston Studio, which will house a rotating exhibition of students’ works, appears to be very steep, and a bit on the mean side, but it is merely a link, and the grandeur is apparent when one enters the Wohl Entrance Hall from under the grand staircase.There are new spaces to eat and drink, including the Senate Room bar, an all-day restaurant and cafés and shops at the Burlington Gardens entrance, all of which have free entry.

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