Christopher Lebrun, recently appointed President of the RA, writes that by ‘showcasing work from current Royal Academicians, RA Now reads like a who’s-who of contemporary art and architecture: Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley, David Hockney, Anish Kapoor, Zaha Hadid and Cindy Sherman to name a few’.
Describing it as ‘RAs from Anish to Zaha’ gives it a desirable international gloss, in a way that the less sexy but more accurate ‘RAs from Ackroyd to Wragg’ could not. There is an element of over claiming here: if it’s a ‘who’s who’, there are certainly some obvious omissions: Riley, Auerbach, Hirst, Doig, Offili…
On the other hand it covers a much broader range than ever before and shows the RA finally reaching parts of the national (if not international) art scene it had previously failed to do. There is some strong British work by, among others, Tony Bevan (left), Stephen Chambers, Basil Beattie, Hughie O’Donoghue, Tess Jaray, and Maurice Cockrill, which have room to breathe in these galleries in a way they never do in the summer shows.
However, because the work has been donated to raise much needed funds, the quality is uneven, with some insubstantial pieces (from Hockney Emin, and Kapoor for example) appearing tokenistic. By trying to combine a survey with a sale also has the unintended effect of divorcing quality from value. Are visitors to conclude that Jenny Savile (£100,000 for pencil drawing) is a much more important artist than Hughie O’Donoghue or Basil Beattie (right), whose paintings range from £8000 to £12000?