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Introducing our 2019 exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts

Published 3 September 2018

From the genius of the Renaissance to immersive new work created specially for our galleries, next year’s exhibitions promise to exhilarate and inspire. The RA’s Artistic Director, Tim Marlow, introduces our packed programme for 2019.

  • This spring we opened the doors to the new RA, launching a series of celebrations that have continued throughout the year. It’s been great to see so many of you enjoying our newly-transformed campus with its free displays, new spaces for exhibitions and workshops, and spectacular new Benjamin West Lecture Theatre. The celebrations continue with the Festival of Ideas this month, and our official 250th anniversary on 10 December. Details to follow shortly…

    So, how on earth can we top our 250th year? I have the pleasure of revealing what I hope you’ll agree is a world-class programme of exhibitions in 2019.

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    Tim Marlow introduces our 2019 exhibitions

    From a fresh look at old masters to work so new you’ll be able to smell the paint, here’s an overview of what’s coming up at the RA in 2019.

  • First up, we’ll bring together two artists separated by hundreds of years (and radically different mediums), who share a deep engagement with some of art’s most enduring and powerful themes.

    As one of the giants of Western art, Michelangelo is celebrated for his monumental vision and achievements in Rome and Florence. But his drawings pack a powerful emotional punch on a much more intimate scale. That’s certainly what legendary American video artist Bill Viola found when he saw perhaps the finest group of these exquisite works in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle. That encounter over 10 years ago sowed the seeds of what will be an extraordinary and moving exhibition. Designed as a journey through the cycle of life, Bill Viola / Michelangelo will present 12 major installations from Viola, spanning his whole career, alongside a selection of Michelangelo’s most poignant works. The human body is at the centre of it all, from infancy to old age – a vessel for existential suffering, but also of triumph and transcendence.

    The theme of the body continues upstairs in The Sackler Wing, as The Renaissance Nude tells the story of one of the watershed moments in Western art through the depiction of the human form. From sacred art to secular, from the Italian Renaissance to that of Germany and northern Europe, this exhibition will be full of jewel-like treasures by artists such as Titian, Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Dürer and Cranach. It will explore a visual tradition that became central to European art, and one that we’re still debating and discussing today.

    On the other side of the New RA, something very different will be happening. Phyllida Barlow RA is well known for creating looming, tactile structures, made from readily available construction materials such as plywood, cement and fabric. In 2019, she will redefine our new Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries with works that promise a precarious beauty through bold installations that respond directly to the space. Later, the same galleries will host Eco-Visionaries, a look at how contemporary artists and architects are responding to our ecological impact on the earth, and how the relationship between humans and non-humans is being radically redefined.

    Summer, as always, offers a joyous moment to celebrate art made today, from art world legends to your next-door neighbour. The Summer Exhibition 2019 will be no different, with proceeds from the art sold continuing to help fund the free education of artists in the Royal Academy Schools. Incidentally, 2019 will also be the 250th anniversary of the RA Schools, so we’ll be celebrating this during our two annual exhibitions by second and final year students.

  • Away from the Main Galleries, I’m delighted that we’ll be shining a light on two long-overlooked artists in quick succession. Félix Vallotton was a contemporary of Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard. With his powers of observation he captured Parisian society in a way that no one else could, while the sharp realism and cool linearity of his later style make his one of the most distinctive artists of the early 20th century. His almost cinematic compositions have even been seen as a precursor to Edward Hopper and Alfred Hitchcock. We’ll be bringing together more than 80 of his enigmatic paintings and prints in June, the first major survey of his work ever held in the UK.

    Then it’s time for another first as we celebrate the singular artistic vision of Finland’s best-kept secret, Helene Schjerfbeck. Schjerfbeck’s artistic journey took her from the studied naturalism of the Paris Salon in the late 19th century, to a radical form of figurative modernism, exemplified by her abstracted self-portraits. Her extraordinary body of work reflects some of the most seismic shifts in modern art, and if you’ve never encountered her before, this show will be a revelation.

    In autumn, a titan of the art world takes centre-stage. Following in the footsteps of Ai Weiwei, Anselm Kiefer and Jasper Johns, Antony Gormley RA will be the next artist to single-handedly take over our Main Galleries with vast and immersive works, in what promises to be a full-body experience in every sense. From intimate drawings to specially created installations that fill entire rooms, Gormley will invite you to take your own route under, around and between his works. He’s describing it as his biggest exhibition yet, and the ambition will well and truly match the scale of our Beaux-Arts galleries.

    We round out the year with one the most important and influential British painters to emerge in the 20th century, with Lucian Freud: The Self-portraits. From boyhood to old age, few artists have portrayed themselves so repeatedly and with such intensity. This highly focused exhibition will reveal a life’s journey – from Berlin to London, marriages to fatherhood, and from sharp surrealism to paint that behaved – as Freud himself put it – “just as flesh does”.

    So, a year of exploration and discovery, spanning hundreds of years and every imaginable medium. We have many more exciting announcements to make in the coming weeks and months, so make sure you are the first to hear by signing up for email updates below, or following us online.

    Become a Friend today and see all of these exhibitions for free.

  • Top of page image credits:

    Helene Schjerfbeck, Self-Portrait, Black Background, 1915. Oil on canvas, 45.5 x 36 cm. Herman and Elisabeth Hallonblad Collection. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum; photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis.
    Agnolo Bronzino, Saint Sebastian, c.1533. Oil on panel, 87 x 76.5 cm. Madrid, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza.
    Antony Gormley, FIELD, 1984-85. Lead, fibreglass, plaster and air, 195 x 560 x 66 cm.