Issue Number: 99
The RA Summer Exhibition is the British art world’s longest running show. But despite its longevity, there’s always room for a surprising twist. This year, two of the selectors – Tracey Emin RA and Humphrey Ocean RA – have gone out of their way to challenge expectations. Alongside Tony Cragg RA, who has invited Anthony Caro RA to show his monumental sculpture in the courtyard, they are breathing new life into this annual celebration of art.
They are also having a lot of fun bouncing ideas off each other, mixing up different generations of artists and questioning notions of what art can be. The cover photo shows Emin and Ocean playing ping-pong on a stainless steel table designed by Ron Arad, who is more famous in architecture and design circles than as an artist, despite the sculptural quality of his work. But Ocean wanted to include him in the gallery he is curating: ‘Arad is not recognised as much as he should be in the art world. But he’s having a big retrospective at the Pompidou Centre this autumn’ (page 50).
Emin, recently elected an RA, wants to attract ‘a new audience – people who wouldn’t normally go to the RA’. A long-time fan of the Summer Exhibition, she loves its ‘over-drenched’ nature, and in her gallery she is keen to introduce artists whose work is not usually mentioned in connection with the Summer Show (page 52). One is the photographer Juergen Teller, well-known for catching famous faces off guard – from Charlotte Rampling to Posh Spice. He has shot the cover photo and snapped the artists in action on page 48-9.
Like the Summer Exhibition, the work of Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) also draws together old and new elements in surprising ways. Indeed, Martin Gayford argues that this painter of enigmatic spaces is more modern than his apparently traditional interiors would lead us to believe (page 56). Meanwhile, Michael Palin, famous for being funny, was so captivated by the mysterious melancholy of Hammershøi’s paintings that he made a TV programme about his journey trying to follow in the footsteps of the elusive artist (page 62).
Two RA Schools’ students are also taking a new look at old rooms. Inspired by the eclectic historical décor of a Romanian castle, they have made wallpaper out of photos of its interiors and created a trompe l’oeil palace in their East End flat, where they show art by their contemporaries (page 66): ‘It brings an illusory element to our way of showing art – the antithesis of the standard white cube.’
For the architect David Chipperfield, another recently elected RA, breathing new life into old buildings is part of his task for restoring Berlin’s Museum Island (page 91). ‘The
Neues Museum has been restored as a ruin, so that the war damage is still visible on the
façade. You see the scars. We keep every fragment... But we never copy anything that is
missing, we never fake.’
Speaking of new life, may I take this opportunity to bid readers a temporary farewell, as this is my last issue before I depart on maternity leave. In addition, our designers are moving on and from the next issue – number 100 – the magazine’s look will slowly change. As with the Summer Exhibition, evolution, not revolution, is the name of the game.
Sarah Greenberg, Editor