How time flies! When I was a student at the Royal College of Art it celebrated its centenary. That the college is now celebrating its 175th anniversary either means that I am a lot older than I thought or that the powers that be at the RCA can’t count. Or that they really like big birthdays. As it turns out, it’s this last option that sees the college celebrating 175 years as an art school a mere sixteen years after celebrating its centenary: the then Government School of Design was founded in 1837, becoming the National Art Training School in 1863 and the Royal College of Art in 1896.
The exhibition charts the history of what is apparently the world’s oldest art and design school in continuous operation and it’s an illustrious and fascinating history. Given the pool of alumni (and staff, past and present) from which the curators could select work, there were always going to be surprises both in terms of inclusions and omissions but this is a show that amply demonstrates the impact of RCA alumni on our cultural and day to day lives.
Tracey Emin, I didn’t say I couldn’t love you, 2011
I’ll start by owning up to the fact that I wouldn’t have gone to see She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea, Tracey Emin’s exhibition at Turner Contemporary in Margate, if there hadn’t been a couple of other things on show outside the gallery that I particularly wanted to see. Over the years, Emin has made quite a lot of work I really like but most of it has been video and, with a few exceptions, I’m not crazy about her drawings, prints and paintings. But I was there so it would have been foolhardy not to take a look. I’ve seen enough of Emin’s work to know that at its best it can be genuinely affecting and that sometimes even the small, almost throw-away, drawings can be funny and occasionally hit a nerve or tell some sort of universal truth.
Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin, Deep inside my heart, 2009-10
Artists collaborating is hardly unusual. And, as the last few posts have shown, artists copy what’s gone before on a regular basis. And occasionally they go so far as to take someone else’s work and change it, like the Chapman brothers did when making Insult to Injury or like Robert Rauschenberg did, albeit with Willem de Kooning’s permission, when he rubbed out a drawing to make Erased de Kooning (1953). When Tracey Emin worked on top of a series of paintings by Louise Bouregois, she did so at Bourgeois’s behest, the two artists having met some years earlier and been in regular contact since; though Bourgeois wasn’t generally interested in collaborations, the two artists had shared preoccupations giving the idea of a joint work a certain appeal. As a collaboration what perhaps made this unusual was that Emin had the paintings for more than a year before deciding how to proceed. Do Not Abandon Me, the series of prints made from these images, was to be one of Bourgeois’s last works; although Bourgeois saw Emin’s additions – and was delighted with them – the work was not shown until after her death.