Anne Desmet RA, Olympic Stadium with Cranes I

Olympic Stadium with Cranes I, 2009

Anne Desmet RA (b. 1964)

RA Collection: Art

Olympic Stadium with Cranes I (2009) depicts the stadium built for the 2012 London Olympics while under construction, with six cranes silhouetted against the white outlines of the stadium. It belongs to Anne Desmet’s series Olympic Metamorphoses (2009-12), a body of work comprising both prints and collages.

As their title suggests, the Olympic Metamorphoses depicts the changes to the East London landscape made by the construction of venues for the Olympics. The subject-matter interested Desmet partly because of the proximity of the stadia to her home in Hackney (Desmet has written that she felt ‘as though the whole familiar cityscape on my doorstep has been shifting seismically’). Architectural change has long been a theme in Desmet’s work, however. She spent a year the British School at Rome (1989-90) as a Rome Scholar in Printmaking, and has also made bodies of work about Roman, medieval and contemporary Italy, the Tower of Babel, and the grand but dilapidated Victoria Baths in Manchester.

Desmet has described the Victoria Baths as ‘Piranesi-esque’—evoking the work of the G.B. Piranesi, a printmaker and architect famous for his spectacular views of ancient Roman ruins), and Olympic Stadium with Cranes I may also allude to one of Piranesi’s best-known prints, a large bird’s-eye view of the Colosseum in Rome. The similarities tease out affinities between these two grand projects, although Desmet used of photographs sourced from the internet as source material for her print, exploiting recent technologies as well as direct observation.

The print is a wood engraving, meaning that it was printed from a block of wood which the artist worked on for several weeks, using a range of steel cutting tools to make intricate incisions in the block. The block was then covered with a layer of ink and printed by Desmet in her home studio using a nineteenth century printing press. The image was created by the contrast between the areas cut away from the block (which do not hold ink and show as white lines on the paper) and the black, inked areas.

Prints from the Olympic Metamorphoses were first exhibited at Hart Gallery, London, in 2010. They were also exhibited at the RA in 2012, alongside works by Gertrude Hermes and Charles Tunnicliffe, the only other Royal Academicians to have been elected primarily for their achievements as wood-engravers.

Object details

Olympic Stadium with Cranes I
Anne Desmet RA (b. 1964)
Object type
Copyright owner
Wood engraving

97 mm x 124 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Given by Anne Desmet RA 29 November 2011
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