Royal Academy of Arts review
You might find this hard to believe if you've read a few of my galley reviews, but I did actually go to art school once. And I really do mean once (I quit on the very first day). After looking around the induction hall I quickly realised that I wasn't cut out to be an art student because you need to smoke dope, have a silly hat or a tattoo or a silver stud in your nose, and basically look like you failed every single subject at school except art. I was imagining a place where painters could actually paint -- somewhere like the Royal Academy in its heyday, because this used to be the greatest art school in the country. That's why it's called an academy, because back in the 18th and 19th-century it really was an academy. This place taught the likes of Turner, Gainsborough and Blake.
The academy still accepts new students every year but if you want to join their prestigious list of Royal Academicians then you need to get voted in by ballot. From the outside it looks a lot like winning an Oscar, or getting your name on the pavement of fame, and the current membership includes famous names like David Hockney, Grayson Perry, Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley and Anish Kapoor.
As far as tourists are concerned it's just another gallery like all the rest. The real meat and potatoes of their permanent collection is hung inside the John Madejski Fine Rooms. That's where you'll find works by the Academy's former members (the Constables, Gainsboroughs, Reynolds and the rest), but you bizarrely have to join a guided tour to see those -- that's the only way of getting inside -- and they don't run very often. At the time of writing it's just once a day for three days a week. Why on earth do they restrict access like that? That's like the Tower of London telling people they can't see the Crown Jewels. It's totally bonkers.
If you arrive at any other time then you'll have to stump up some money for one of their temporary exhibitions instead. These exhibitions can be about anyone at all (there's one about Matisse at the moment) and are usually housed inside four little rooms upstairs. I've only ever spent about 30 minutes in these exhibitions -- that's how small they are.
If you're planning to visit then my advice is to check their website for the times of the John Madejski Fine Rooms Tour (or just go to the National Gallery, Courtauld or Tate Britain instead, which are all better).
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I’ve been here more than once…