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9 things to know about the new RA

Published 14 May 2018

We don’t know if we’ve mentioned it, but the Royal Academy has had a major transformation – welcome to the new RA! Here are nine things you can expect from London’s new home for art and ideas.

  • 1. You’re allowed here

    We hope that goes without saying, but making that feeling front and centre is one of the key aims of David Chipperfield, the architect behind the new RA. When he began the project, Chipperfield already knew the RA inside out: he’s one of the Royal Academicians – the artists and architects who run the organisation. He also already knew a thing or two about creating homes for art, with The Hepworth Wakefield, Berlin’s Neues Museum and Turner Contemporary in Margate among his previous work. He’s taken our two historic sites, Burlington House and Burlington Gardens, and connected them into a new, sparkling cultural campus – with two front doors. He says of the project: “I want everything we’ve done just to seem natural – as if the only thing we’ve done is to say, now you’re allowed here.”

    2. You’ll be greeted by thinkers of the past

    As you approach our new Burlington Gardens entrance, you can spot 22 statues of famous thinkers including Galileo, Aristotle, Plato, Archimedes, Isaac Newton, Jeremy Bentham, Adam Smith and John Locke. The sculptures were inherited along with the building, which was originally designed as the University of London headquarters in the 1860s. In preparation for unveiling the transformed building, we’ve given them a gentle clean to return them to their former glory.

    3. It’s old. And it’s new

    …as is the RA way. We’re the tradition that began with a group of artists and architects in 1768 – and the contemporary art organisation that continues it today. That’s why upstairs at Burlington Gardens you’ll find a display of work created (or admired) by the masters who founded us, and across the corridor, new galleries for contemporary art, inaugurated by the pioneering work of Academician Tacita Dean.

  • The Weston Bridge

    The Weston Bridge

    Photo: Simon Menges

  • The new RA in numbers

    • 1768

      Not a number but a year, 250 years ago, when the RA was founded by a group of artists and architects. We think they’d be pretty excited about the new RA.

      230

      The number of objects from our Collection you can see for free at the new RA, including the only marble sculpture by Michelangelo in the UK, the Taddei Tondo.

      46,000

      The total number of items in the RA Collection. Why not lose yourself in them using our new Explorer tool?

    • 8,813

      The total space, in square metres, of the new RA’s campus – 70% more than the original Burlington House footprint.

      50

      The number of exhibition posters specially republished to adorn our new Poster Bar – a new meeting place to grab a drink surrounded by the RA’s remarkable history of poster design. You can buy them all in a range of sizes.

      12

      The number of Red Collars who look after all aspects of Academy life. A tradition since the RA’s founding in 1768, they’re a combination of visitor host, security guard and guide.

    • 250

      The birthday we’re celebrating (of course, you’re invited to the party).

      5

      The choice of places to stop for coffee around our new campus – and it’s seven if you include The Keeper’s House, our hub for Friends of the RA.

      934

      The number of construction days it took to create the new RA’s expanded campus. How did it turn out? Well, read on to find out…

  • I want everything we’ve done just to seem natural – as if the only thing we’ve done is to say, now you’re allowed here.

    David Chipperfield RA

  • 4. There’s a loo on the roof

    …but please don’t use it. It will be part of Invisible Landscapes – an exploration into how digital technologies are radically transforming our homes, designed by Barcelona-based architects MAIO. Soon you’ll be able to head up to our new Architecture Studio to investigate how these smart technologies, sharing economy platforms and apps for domestic spaces are altering the boundaries between public and private, urban and domestic, human and technology. This new space invites architects to grapple with cutting-edge ideas about our built environment, just as they always have at the RA – from Sir John Soane to Dame Zaha Hadid.

    5. You might catch a glimpse of an artist at work

    Tucked underneath our main galleries has always been Britain’s longest running art school – the RA Schools. A hive of creativity and home to just under 50 artists, it’s the only free three-year postgraduate fine art programme in Europe. Now, you can walk down through the Vaults and get a sense of our art school at work; as well as explore some of the students’ experimental projects in the Weston Studio.

    6. We’re ready for a fight

    The Academy has always been a place for lively (and heated) discussions about art – even if it sometimes got us into hot water. Our buildings, too, have a history of hosting controversial ideas – it was in Burlington House that Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species papers were first presented. Now, we’ve built the elegant, day-lit space of the Benjamin West Lecture Theatre, and we’re ready to stir the pot of contentious opinions once more. Come to one of our talks, panel debates or book ahead for our new Festival of Ideas in September.

  • The Benjamin West Lecture Theatre

    The Benjamin West Lecture Theatre

    Photo: Simon Menges

  • 7. We invited Grayson Perry round for beef tea

    As the coordinator for our 250th Summer Exhibition – the world’s largest open submission art show, opening on 12 June – Grayson Perry has got to grips with its weird and wonderful traditions. One of the most mysterious of these takes place during the eight days it takes to hang the 1000+ works in the show, when its artist committee is fuelled by “beef tea”. The exact recipe remains secret – but we’re (semi-)reliably informed that it contains a great deal of sherry, like many an 18th-century treat.

    8. You can buy piece of art and a piece of cake

    …all in one place. Our new Poster Bar is the perfect place for a pre-exhibition coffee and pastry, or a post-exhibition drink at the bar. It’s decorated with iconic posters from the RA’s past, with many specially reprinted and available to buy. Next door is the Newsstand, where you can buy the latest arts magazines, cards and stationery – we recommend picking up some drawing materials and going sketching in the galleries. Or, if you’re after a longer lunch (perhaps accompanied by a glass of crisp white?) take a trip upstairs to the Dorfman Senate Rooms, where you’ll find a Chipperfield-designed bar and restaurant overlooking Mayfair’s gallery quarter.

    9. You’ll see how Turner learned to draw

    In our new Vaults display, you’ll get a taste of how artists were formed over the last 250 years. Learning to draw has traditionally been an important step in any artist’s career – and our students and Academicians are no exception. RA students, like Constable, Turner and William Blake had to master drawing from plaster casts of ancient sculptures before being let loose on real-life models. The colossal cast of the Farnese Hercules is just one of the highlights (and a favourite of historians Mary Beard and Dan Snow, too).


    • Discover more about the RA

      Want to know more about the RA’s weird and wonderful history? Pick up A Royal Academy A-Z in the shop or online – featuring everything from anarchists and wars to skeletons and flayed figures.

      A Royal Academy A-Z

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