A letter from the Director of Exhibitions
Meet Kathleen Soriano - Director of Exhibitions
Taking on the position of Director of Exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts, in January of this year, wasn’t so much starting a new job as coming home. My career in the art world actually began at the Royal Academy over 20 years ago when I was deep within a department that had oversight of the education programme, the permanent collection and library, as well as hovering on the edges of exhibition-making. The three years that I spent at the RA, back in the mid 1980s gave me an inherent understanding of how the organisation is made up of many complex parts, all combining together to make this rather wonderful, and totally unique, whole, that I am sure you have all come to love.
My career path then took me to the National Portrait Gallery
where I remained very happily for 17 years; eight of those with Charles Saumarez Smith as Director. Over so many years I was fortunate enough to work with some of the greatest photographers of our day including Henri Cartier Bresson, Helmut Newton, Lord Snowdon, Annie Leibovitz, Bruce Weber and Mario Testino. Beyond photography there were many more shows that reflected the range of the NPG’s interests including India and the Raj, Thomas Eakins, George Bernard Shaw, The Sitwells, Portrait of the Century, Painted Ladies and David Livingstone. I then found myself in the Warwickshire countryside as Director of Compton Verney
where I had three very happy years planning a dynamic programme of exhibitions where the contemporary met the historic; ranging from Van Gogh, Jack B Yeats, Francis Bacon and Giacommetti to Richard Billingham, Mona Hatoum and James Coleman; as well as working with a group of collections that ranged from Chinese bronzes to Neapolitan Baroque painting; and not forgetting the management of the 120 acres of Capability Brown landscape within which the museum sat.
So, what can you expect from me here at the RA?
Well, I am a great believer in building on success and will work hard to ensure that the RA continues its exhibition programme in a similar vein, bringing you the great civilisation shows (Syria for autumn 2013 is the next on the books), the great monographic artist exhibitions (Van Gogh opens this January) as well as our sweeping survey shows (a fabulous collection from the Leichtenstein Museum comes to us in September next year). There is no question that the fabulous galleries of the RA demand a certain type of exhibition within them. I also want to ensure that we continue to deliver the quality of international exhibitions that we have in the past, and that we rely on our Friends supporting so enthusiastically, as you have over the years.
Furthermore, we will continue to experiment in our 6 Burlington Gardens galleries, immediately behind Burlington House. One of my first tasks on arriving in January was to develop an exhibition for these very galleries for this winter. Do have a look at the micro-site for GSK Contemporary: Earth – art of a changing world
to find out more about this issue-based, contemporary art exhibition that will include the work of artists such as Gary Hume, Tracey Emin, Mona Hatoum, Cornelia Parker, Mariele Neudecker, Bill Woodrow, David Nash and Sophie Calle. The theme of the exhibition has allowed us to develop partnerships with the National Trust and Burlington Arcade, as well as being awarded partnership status on the cultural programme for the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit (COP15) later this year.
People often ask at which point ‘my’ schedule will kick in, given that many exhibitions take between 3 and 5 years to organise, but as you will have read, I have had to work a little bit quicker. Beyond that, I have been able to influence the programme from 2010 onwards and, having worked hard over my first six months, we are now busy placing shows into the programme for 2012, 2013 and 2015.
In my spare time I have been considering how we will develop the Royal Academy’s activities in the future in 6 Burlington Gardens. The building offers tremendous opportunity, not only for exhibitions but for visitor and Friends’ facilities as well as a better representation of all of the different elements that make up the Royal Academy of Arts. It is a work in progress but holds great promise for an exciting future.