Royal Academy Boss Reveals Kapoor Show, Chipperfield Annex Plan

Interview by Farah Nayeri

July 23 (Bloomberg) -- Anish Kapoor, the India-born contemporary sculptor, will get a stand-alone exhibition at London's Royal Academy of Arts in late 2009, RA Secretary and Chief Executive Charles Saumarez Smith said.
The show of Kapoor's work, filling all of the main-floor galleries, will look back at the evolution of the Turner Prize- winner's career, Saumarez Smith, who left the National Gallery's directorship for the RA last year, said in an interview.
He also outlined architect David Chipperfield's plans to renovate, by 2012, the academy's Burlington Gardens annex: build a lecture theater, refurbish the upstairs gallery spaces, and open a ground-floor restaurant.
Saumarez Smith, 54, is steering an institution that for three decades was dominated by former Exhibitions Secretary Norman Rosenthal, mastermind of such blockbusters as this year's ``From Russia,'' ``Aztecs'' (2002-3) and ``Sensation'' (1997). Rosenthal left in January to become a freelance curator; the RA exhibitions program for the next four years is mostly his doing. In the spring of 2009, the RA will show the work of the 19th- century Japanese printmaker Utagawa Kuniyoshi.
The new boss's aim is to showcase the 240-year-old RA's other constituents: the 80 artists, or academicians, who govern it, collectively displaying their work at the annual Summer Exhibition; and the art school, Britain's oldest, where William Blake and J.M.W. Turner studied. He is glad that Kapoor and Chipperfield, both academicians, are in the RA spotlight.
`Cutting-Edge'
``In the past, there has been a very ambitious program for historic exhibitions, and also some famous, well-known, and memorable exhibitions of cutting-edge contemporary art,'' said Saumarez Smith, dressed in a beige summer suit, as he dug into a plate of paella at a restaurant near the RA. ``But in general, the RA has maybe not done as much as it might have done to promote the work of its members.
``I somewhat regret the fact that it's thought of primarily only as an exhibition venue, and not as an institution which also represents the work of its members,'' he said.
The RA's next big show will be ``Byzantium'' (Oct. 25, 2008, through March 22, 2009), the first U.K. exhibition of its kind in 50 years. Spanning 11 centuries, it will display 300 objects loaned by, among others, Venice's San Marco Treasury.
Saumarez Smith, who is busy securing loans for ``Byzantium,'' said he intended to keep the current mix of exhibitions that focus on art and civilization. More contemporary art shows, he said, would be staged in the Burlington Gardens wing, which Chipperfield is renovating.
Light Conservation
The architect was chosen from among seven for his philosophy of ``light-touch conservation,'' he said: ``understanding the necessary balance between retaining the fabric and character of the existing building, but making it adventurous and interesting as an exhibition space.''
Chipperfield has recently worked on Berlin's Neues Museum and on three U.S. institutions: the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa; the Anchorage Museum in Anchorage, Alaska; and the Saint Louis Art Museum in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Yet he has had few major commissions in the U.K. His current building projects are the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield, and the Turner Contemporary in Margate.
Last week, the RA also named a new director of exhibitions: Kathleen Soriano, who managed exhibitions and collections at the National Portrait Gallery when Saumarez Smith ran it, and worked at the Royal Academy in the late 1980s. Currently director of the Compton Verney, an art gallery in Warwickshire, she studied, like Rosenthal, at the University of Leicester. She starts in January 2009.
Asked why he chose a less high-profile exhibitions manager than Rosenthal, Saumarez Smith said, ``Norman had been exhibitions secretary for 31 years, and was extremely well known for that. Kathleen, I'm confident, will be well known possibly in a slightly different way.''
To contact the reporter on this story: Farah Nayeri in London at Farahn@bloomberg.net.
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