ARTISTS' LABORATORY

Artists' Laboratory
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ARTISTS' LABORATORY



Written by Izzy Elstob
13 Monday 13th September 2010

 

The Royal Academy of Arts has a polluted reputation amongst Bright Young Things. Re-visiting this bastion of British art, in order to view Artists’ Laboratory 01: Ian Mckeever, reminded me how much substance there is to this institution. It is more than an attractive and rainproof racetrack for sweet old biddies to rush towards the cafe to sample the Victoria sponge and fine teas. There is so much more for us to sample here. It is, in fact, a visual hothouse of art from all around the globe and all across art history. 
 
 
The idea that lies behind the Artists’ Laboratory (of which there will be two every Autumn), is for a select few Academicians to be given the space in order to exhibit lesser-known and more ‘experimental’ deviations that their practice has taken. For Ian McKeever, these deviations have taken the form of photography. An established painter who produces substantial canvases of oil and acrylic, McKeever has been let loose on a new medium – with pleasant results. Would it be wrong for me to suggest that – despite McKeever’s standing as an artist represented both in the Tate and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York – I actually prefer many of his photographs to his daunting criss-crossed and concealed canvases? We are still given access to his painting in the laboratory; four enormous pictures are hung in the main room, acting like reassuring pillars, stopping the walls of your fixed ideas from caving in around you. Between them are hung the small photographs in this well-ordered and tidily curated laboratory. Some of these photographs are strikingly better than others. The second room houses some remarkable little images. With the implications of the ‘laboratory’ swirling in your mind you might be drawn to Picture 24, a wonderful little photograph that appears as cells dividing within a Petri-dish. Picture 19 shows us a perfect composition formed solely from light and shade, and Picture 35 is a deeply shadowed curtain, backlit by piercing sunlight: it looks to be some bizarre but beautiful domestic x-ray image.             
 
 
 
Anyone who saw the inspired Van Gogh exhibition this year or From Russia two years ago will know that these are the sort of shows that the Royal Academy – and only the Royal Academy – can pull off with impressive aplomb. Their past catalogue includes Miró, Giacometti and Braque, Epstein, J.W Waterhouse and of course the highly visited Anish Kapoor. But with smaller exhibitions, such as the anatomical drawings by Benjamin Robert Haydon and Tracy Emin’s prints (on display until September 22), the RA shows itself to do these intimate and niche exhibitions with a commitment that demonstrates interest beyond viewer footfall. To explore our own art it is absolutely imperative to understand how it was we arrived at this point, so use the RA for all its weird and wonderful variation and it might surprise you. And you can always have a slice of cake and a cup of tea when you’re done.

 

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