Your blogger visited the Royal Academy last Friday, in order to catch The Age of Giorgione exhibition ( see Portrait of a Young Man, left ) before it ended, but was surprised to find herself in the middle of another event entirely.
My first surprise was the installation of a new sculpture, Spyre, by Ron Arad, the Israeli sculptor, in the front courtyard. There was a film crew there, capturing this for local news, I presumed, although they seemed to be pointing their camera away from the sculpture, at the main facade of Burlington House? My second surprise was the statue of the artist which stands in the courtyard, just in front of the main entrance. It was garlanded with brightly coloured Summer flowers. Odd, I thought, but I was late, so I hurried on by, up the steps to the foyer.
But the friend I was meeting hadn’t yet arrived, being held up in the traffic which I had already encountered, so I wandered back outside, drawn by what sounded like a Caribbean steel band. Which is exactly what it was, playing in the courtyard. Unusual. And there were far more folk milling around now. But, hang on, the Arad sculpture was moving! Like a giant, rusty tentacle, or snake’s head, it moved, slowly but inexorably, apparently at random. What looked like an eye in the head was in fact a camera and what it was seeing was being streamed onto a large screen on the facade of Burlington House. The video below shows people looking at and photographing the screen above your blogger’s head.
More and more folk came into the courtyard, including some famous faces. A booted Tracy Emin strode past, looking faintly sour and Charles Sumaurez Smith, Secretary and Chief Executive of the RA was loitering, chatting with folk in the growing crowd. Then a priest and a host of be-robed church folk turned up, crucifixes, candles and all. Curiouser and curiouser – what was going on?
It was ‘Varnishing Day’ at the RA, the inauguration of the Summer Exhibition ( even though that exhibition isn’t open to the public until 13th June ). The folk in the courtyard were artists whose work had been accepted for the exhibition ( it is, for those who don’t know, an exhibition of the work of the best of those who apply, be they professional or amateur and this show has made the name of many an unrecognised artist ). There were also a few Academicians.
The clergy formed up, biggest crucifix aloft, followed by the three-man steel band and a host of other people and moved off from the courtyard, out on to Piccadilly and thence, I learned, to St James’ Church for a short ‘blessing’ service. They would return later for a reception, the preparations for which were already in evidence within Burlington House – canapes were being made and champagne glasses lined up in rows. By the time we left there were people walking round clutching full glasses and canape plates, but we had an engagement for lunch elsewhere.
And The Age of Giorgione? It was excellent, with paintings from Durer, Titian, Bellini, Lotto and, of course, Giorgione. I would recommend it, but, unfortunately, it closed yesterday, 5th June. You can listen to a podcast about it here. The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition opens on 13th June until 21st August, tickets cost £13.50. It is unique and remarkable, but be warned, it gets very crowded.