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From Monet to Hockney: 2016 at the Royal Academy

Published 29 September 2015

The Royal Academy’s Artistic Director explains what’s in store in for the next year as we launch our 2016 exhibition programme.

  • Unveiling a year’s exhibition programme is one of the most exciting things I get to do: a rich and complex mixture of challenging ideas and beautiful objects, of Old Masters and new ones too. Our approach, as ever, will be rigorous, imaginative and – as you’d doubtless hope from an artist-led institution – frequently unpredictable.

    We start with a re-appraisal of the first great installation of Modern Art – Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny, which underpins our opening exhibition of the year, Painting the Modern Garden. This will be a landmark in every sense, which charts the emergence of the garden as a major subject in art: from Monet to Matisse via Cezanne, Van Gogh, Bonnard, Vuillard, Kandinsky, Nolde, Klee and many others. Curated by Ann Dumas in the Main Galleries, the exhibition will also explore how the seeds were sown for the idea of the modern urban garden that still prevails today.

    In the Sackler Wing we head to Venice at the turn of the 16th century. The city is on the rise: by the time the century is out, it will be the undisputed European capital of the arts. So why do we know so little about the man who catalysed the revolution that led to this golden age – Giorgione? A mysterious figure, he painted what many consider the first landscape in art history and his influence echoes through the work of artists including Lorenzo Lotto, Palma il Vecchio and, most notably, Titian. In the Age of Giorgione invites you into the web of his influence, through works by these artists and their contemporaries.

  • The Summer Exhibition of 2015 was the most successful for decades. The critical response was very positive and the public response incredible: over 230,000 of you came to see the 247th manifestation of the longest-running open-submission exhibition in Britain. How will the 248th Summer Exhibition measure up? You’ll see how in June.

    In 2012, like many of you, I was blown away by David Hockney’s A Bigger Picture. As a follow up, we’re turning away from those great expansive landscapes towards the intimacy of this modern master’s portraiture. He has been working on an intensive series depicting friends and art world players all of whom sit in the same chair against the same backdrop over three days: what Hockney calls ‘a twenty-hour exposure’. We will be showing around 70 of these new portraits in the Sackler Wing over the summer. I’d suggest you book early.

    Taking us into the autumn will be a substantial re-evaluation of Abstract Expressionism. We’re suggesting that this remarkable movement, driven by the great New York School including Pollock, Rothko, De Kooning, Newman et al, is actually misunderstood. It was not unified, its roots go back further than you’d think and it wasn’t all about painting. We’re calling in major works from all over the world, with some epic canvases as well as drawings, sculpture, and photography. This is the first significant survey in Europe for fifty years of the pivotal movement in western art in the second half of the twentieth century. Its impact will – I hope – be as monumental as some of the great paintings on display.

    At the end of the year, we bring you the work of James Ensor in the Sackler Wing. In a way, Ensor is a painter’s painter, a mysterious Belgian symbolist and proto-expressionist whose work is at times unnerving, weird, satirical, humorous, dark, complex and singular. Who better to curate the show than one of the great contemporary painters – and fellow Belgian – Luc Tuymans?

    You might know that the Academy is built literally – as well as metaphorically – around our art school. It is our creative engine, and we’re privileged to share the work of our students twice a year, at Premiums in the spring and the RA Schools Show in the summer. Three of our graduates were recently featured in the Evening Standard’s list of the most influential London artists – I’m confident our current crop of artists are names of the future too.

    So all in all one hell of a year – and the most heavenly spaces in Europe deserve no less. We look forward to welcoming you back, time and time again.

    You can book tickets for all these exhibitions now, or become a Friend of the RA to see them all for free.