Issue Number: 91
The Royal Academy Schools have recently launched the RA Schools Gallery to display the work of its students and recent graduates alongside that of more established artists. It marks the Schools’ desire to engage more fully with the public and the art world as, for the first time in its history, RA alumni will have a dedicated space to exhibit their work on a regular basis. ‘Most people don’t know there is a school in the RA, even though it’s been going for nearly 250 years,’ says Keeper of the RA Schools, Maurice Cockrill. ‘The gallery is an opportunity to bring the Schools out into the daylight.’
The gallery, in Hornsey, north London, was created in 2002 through a partnership between the property developer the St James Group and the RA Schools. The initiative includes St James’s sponsorship of a five-year programme for exhibitions and an annual award, the St James Fellowship, worth £10,000. Each year, a student is selected upon graduation as the gallery’s artist-in-residence, exhibiting in the space at the end of their residency.
The curator behind the gallery is Michael Petry, a visiting tutor at the RA Schools and now the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, a non-commercial project space in Peckham, London, that initiates new work. Petry wants to display the work of RA graduates alongside that of more well-known contemporary artists. ‘I’m trying to present established artists with whom the younger artists have something in common, creating a visual dialogue across artistic generations.’ Petry cites the spring show, ‘Breathless’, featuring recent graduate Rob Smith and art star Cornelia Parker. ‘Smith and Parker are both dealing with the materiality of objects and transformation, but their different ages and experiences mean they have completely different approaches,’ he says. ‘To an extent, the younger artist’s responses have already been informed by the practice of the older artist.’ His perspective is shared by Smith, who graduated from the RA Schools in 2002. ‘A show like this with Cornelia helps to better define my work for others,’ he explains.
Other art schools are opening graduate galleries. For example, Chelsea College of Art and Design has just launched an exhibition space for alumni at London’s Grosvenor Dock, just north of Chelsea Bridge (showing the work of Stephen Farthing RA until 14 July).
Although some of the graduates on show are already gaining a profile among galleries and collectors, the exhibition venue serves as further support from the RA Schools. Recent graduates need the chance to show their work and experiment with new ideas and the gallery provides this opportunity and gives the public a place to spot new talent. ‘We don’t want the RA Schools to be a goldfish bowl – but it is also important to give our graduates a foot on the ladder,’ sums up Cockrill. ‘Displaying their work alongside a high-profile artist is a helping hand from their alma mater.’