AG Yes, and I would say that that approach, with architects and artists curating the displays, avoids the result becoming too museum-ish. The Academy remains unique, a place led by artists, so the collections are arranged according to their vision. On the upper floor  the sculptor Richard Deacon RA curates historic and contemporary sculpture, in a space before you enter exhibitions in The Sackler Wing (The Jillian and Arthur M. Sackler Wing of Galleries).
CLB That space will now become a proper sculpture gallery.
AG We are not remodelling Foster and Partners’ architecture there, but rather using the space in a new fashion so that people can embrace the space as a satisfying place to see art.
CLB We’re working closely with Maurice Davies, the RA’s Head of Collections, and his team on all the displays. One of Maurice’s ideas is a display of artefacts on the first floor that will bring out the personal stories of Academicians. These are personal or professional objects they left to RA, because our collection is rather special, in the sense that it not only includes masterpieces like the Tondo, the diploma works and so forth, but it also has artists’ mementoes, and the tools of their trade.
AG We should go back to describing the journey between the buildings. Because after visitors walk through The Vaults, they reach the RA Schools itself. The public will cross the Schools’ historic Cast Corridor into what was a student’s studio, but which will now be the students’ exhibition space [B].
CLB For the first time ever students will have a space at the RA in which to exhibit throughout the year.
AG Exactly. They will have a gallery of their own through which people will pass. They could display an installation by a single student, a collective work, a group exhibition – they can do whatever they want to do with it. It will be the youthful, beating heart of the Academy, found at the very heart of the site. The students’ contemporary work here will echo the history of training seen in The Vaults.
CLB If you’re lucky, you’ll see some students wandering around, as their studios are located to either side.
AG And at that point you step up into David Chipperfield’s Weston Bridge itself, which traverses the void between the RA Schools studios and the Burlington Gardens building – glass will allow a view onto a landscaped area, which will include outdoor sculpture. The area is going to be used by the students and staff, as a space of gathering.
CLB At this point, having been on a journey through the history of the Academy and the Schools, you will reach the contemporary, towards the end of the Weston Bridge. It will lead to a very handsome gallery – the McAulay Gallery D.
AG Yes, it is not a big gallery, but it has a very high ceiling. It will display contemporary art. One idea is to invite a living artist to display maybe one large, exceptional piece.
CLB When the space was designed, some people in the Academy said, “That’s the shop.”
AG We fought it.
CLB Yes we fought, I hope on the visitor’s behalf, because of course, the central spaces of the journey through the site have immense symbolism. You have to put art at the centre of the journey.
AG That’s why we’re also having shops and places to eat at both ends of the site – close to the entrances of Burlington House and Burlington Gardens. We also want people to be able to arrive from either end of the site and find facilities and services. So, there will be shops, and somewhere for tea in the Senate Rooms [H], which are grand spaces upstairs in Burlington Gardens that will also feature architecture displays.
CLB We’ve designed in your honour, Adrien, a tiny little espresso bar. You know the ones in Paris with a zinc top, where you’re just in there leaning – something you do most of the time Adrien! We’ve got a little coffee station just as you walk in from the street. Upstairs, in the Senate Rooms, there’s a place you can linger.
AG Next to the Collections Gallery.
CLB Yes, and to recap, once you’ve entered Burlington Gardens, walking through the McAulay Gallery, you reach the building’s main staircase. To one side there will be the Clore Learning Centre [F] and the double-height Lecture Theatre [G], which is going to be absolutely spectacular. Then you walk upstairs, and at the top of the stairs, by the Senate Rooms, is access to the Collections Gallery . It’s a very grand room, and I have the job of curating it.
The theory of the room is this: it houses the treasures of the collection – a series of great masterpieces, often by the founding Academicians. Although I was getting some pressure from people to present the Academy as a contemporary institution there, I think it is very important to mark out in the Collections Gallery the original territory of the foundation of the Academy. So, there will be masterpieces by the great founding and early Members such as Reynolds, Gainsborough and Angelica Kauffman, to tell the story of the first 60 years between 1768 and 1828.
At the beginning of this period, the aesthetic of British painting was based on masters such as Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo. As well as working from casts, artists were encouraged to make copies of the masters’ paintings. So, for example, we show a wonderful series of full-scale painted copies by James Thornhill of Raphael’s famous tapestries. They show the scale of ambition of artists in the 18th century. And they have never been seen by visitors to the Academy. There is also the great copy of Leonardo’s The Last Supper. Now, you may say, “Oh, it’s just a copy.” It may be a copy, but it was a copy done within Leonardo’s lifetime by one of his most talented students, Giampietrino, and it’s the only record of what the painting really looked like, because the fresco in Milan is badly damaged. Again, it was given to the Academy. It shows what the Academy stood for.
AG Copying is a word that is so badly received. This gallery will remind us of its importance, because repeating the gestures of the old masters was central to 18th-century ideas.
CLB Artists mirrored the spirit and ambition of those great masters. But then in the same gallery, we will show our breathtaking paintings by John Constable, including his studies of clouds from the 1820s. Constable was painting the most ephemeral, evanescent, transient things that you can imagine.
Think of the cultural implication: in a short, dynamic period, you’ve moved from classicism to the heart of English Romanticism with Constable. Romanticism was, in some ways, the country’s greatest contribution to art history. French painting was enormously influenced by Constable. It is a big, big break from the past, because Constable was suddenly producing work with the recognisable feel of modern art – subjective, obscure, transient. So, in this room, we are showing this extraordinary shift.
AG There will be works on paper, including drawings after Raphael and Michelangelo. They are very delicate, so they will need to be taken out of the light probably every six months.
CLB The great works, though, will really need to be there to see any time you want to visit. The Academy constantly rotates its temporary exhibitions, and there is sometimes a sense in this place of endless change and endless flexibility. Here, I am making the case for permanence.
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