Friday, 4 January 2013

Eclectic Wonders at The Royal College of Art

The RCA: inspiring the young!
Managed to get to the Royal College of Art for the last day of 'The Perfect Place to Grow', thanks entirely to the vast numbers of people trying to get into the Natural History Museum. At the sight of the queues my son and I decided to go elsewhere and happened to walk past the RCA on the way to Kensington Gardens. The ridiculous thing is that I had scoured the arts listings before travelling to London and not once did I see a mention of this wonderful show. Did I miss it? Or are arts websites as narrow in their focus as the arts sections of newspapers?

Eclectic wonders: from Ian Dury to Margaret Calvert (pic here)
I hope a visit to the RCA Anniversary show was mandatory for anyone learning how to be a museum curator. Here was a rich and diverse collection of paintings, sculptures, video installations, films and designed objects - cars, wheelbarrows, furniture - displayed simply and with a minimum of fuss. It helps I suppose that the organisers had such a range of work to choose from. With alumni as varied in their interests as Tracy Emin, Bawden and Ravilious, James Dyson and Ridley Scott, you would have to try quite hard to create a boring exhibition.

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner
There were youthful works by Henry Moore and paintings by all sorts of people, from Peter Blake and John Piper to Carel Weight and Frank Auerbach. The section devoted to politics looked a bit alarming for a nine year-old so I was only able to give it a quick once-over, but we had fun in the industrial design section. The sight of a Dyson-designed wheelbarrow took me back to the 1970s, when my grandfather bought one, while one of the road signs (showing the Transport font designed by RCA teacher Margaret Calvert) came from a roundabout near my childhood home.

Politics and fashion... (pic here)
We need more exhibitions like this: eclectic, unpretentious and related to everyday life. If you set paintings among familiar objects I think people (especially children) are more receptive. Likewise, if you show just a couple of artworks by an artist it arouses curiosity. After seeing the Emin title piece, 'A Perfect Place to Grow' (a funny wooden hut on stilts, with an eccentric through-the-keyhole video of a man in a jungle), I think I could become a fan...

If you missed the show you can still buy the book, with text by the eminently readable Fiona McCarthy.


  1. thanks for sharing lovely blogs - I have succumbed to Mark hearld's glowing colours in this grey weather - and glad you enjoyed the RCA - dont' forget that the V&A has still lots of hidden quiet corners - 1000 year old silks in the textile gallery upstairs (pull out the drawers) and strange animal-carved showcases in the silver gallery. Any way, thanks for all your fascinating blogs. Happy 2013!

  2. Thanks for your comment - as it happens I spent much of the previous day at the V&A, also partly thanks to queues at the NH museum. A lovely exhibition of Constable oil sketches, which I might post something about in due course - also C20 design, featuring Ravilious's Boat Race bowl... Will look out for the silks next time!