London’s Royal Academy was founded in 1768, a few years before the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Nonetheless, it has been edging into the 21st century.
Today, for the first time, Royal Academicians and honorary associates are participating in something not foreseen in the reign of George III: an online sale and auction.
Almost everything on view in the exhibition “RA Now” is for sale (more on the exception below). Some pieces are in a live auction starting at noon local time today and may raise as much as 1 million pounds ($1.6 million), according to estimates.
The proceeds will boost the Academy’s current building project. The artists who have donated work include some celebrated names: David Hockney, Anselm Kiefer, Ed Ruscha, Jeff Koons and Frank Stella.
Grayson Perry has contributed a ceramic pot entitled “Bad Portraits of Establishment Figures 1” (estimated to sell for 50,000 pounds to 70,000 pounds). It contains a number of depictions of leading artists. Because the likenesses are, indeed, pretty approximate it is far from clear who’s who.
The consensus is that the new President of the RA, Christopher Le Brun, features prominently, as does Tracey Emin and less certainly Hockney. The badness of the portraits is obviously part of the point, and doesn’t prevent this being a beguiling little work -- a ceramic love letter to the RA.
“I wanted this pot to be quite jolly,” Perry is quoted as saying in the catalog, “as that is my experience of being an RA, lots of fun and drinking.”
Several of the sculptures on display are also surprisingly light-hearted. Allen Jones’s “Enchanteresse” (60,000 pounds to 80,000 pounds) is a miniature version of one of his trademark, pop-art female figures. This one is wearing only boots and a green-blue costume so tight it looks like body paint. It is deliberately made in the same dimensions as Degas’s “Little Dancer Aged 14,” another rather politically incorrect statuette.
Antony Gormley’s “Standing Matter XXXIV” is estimated at 300,000 pounds. Insofar as a standing male figure in rust-colored cast iron can be fun, it is. This is from a recent series entitled “Ball Works,” and constructed of differently sized spheres. The effect is a little like a robot or the Michelin man made out of bubbles rather than tires.
Those with smaller budgets and broader minds might consider Emin’s monotype “A Fool” (2,000 pounds to 3,000 pounds), featuring one of her spikily drawn, splayed legged nudes and the reflection, “I was a fool most of my life.” While it’s a slight work, it’s quite inexpensive.
A more conventional and costly feat of draughtsmanship is Jenny Saville’s “Mother and Child Study II” (100,000 pounds), depicting a modern, unidealized parent and infant in something of the manner of Michelangelo or Leonardo. In a way, it’s more shocking than the Emin.
Personally, I would be tempted by Gary Hume’s “Untitled” (30,000 pounds to 40,000 pounds), a tree in charcoal and gloss paint on paper. As Hume grows older, he’s becoming more lyrical in his interest in subjects such as birds, trees and leaves.
Another image that caught my eye was a spectacular photograph by the performance artist Marina Abramovic, “Holding the Lamb,” showing her raising a small sheep above her head in a misty, Biblical landscape.
This is an interesting departure for the artist, moving from performing to making still images of her own actions. Tantalizingly, this is the only work in the exhibition that isn’t for sale. Then again, one of the rules of buying art is that you always want what you can’t have.
“RA Now” is at 6, Burlington Gardens, W1J 0BD, through Nov. 11. Information: http://www.royalacademy.org.uk or +44-20-7300-8000.
The online sale is today and the auction website is http://www.ra-now-onlineauction.com. For further details contact RA_now@activ.org.uk. Supported by JTI and Sotheby’s. The works are for sale to raise funds for the Burlington Project, which will see the RA almost double in size by 2018.
(Martin Gayford is chief art critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Scott Reyburn on the art market, Richard Vines on food and Zinta Lundborg’s interviews.