It was the final day of the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy today. In a break with tradition this year the RA allowed the public to take photographs in the galleries. I have mixed feelings about this – I can’t remember how many times I’ve been in an art gallery and wanted to take a photo. Not necessarily of a painting or sculpture, but of a view through a doorway, a person or a detail. Generally, it hasn’t been allowed, so I was really surprised to see people taking pictures. And it just felt, well – wrong! I asked the staff and there were various explanations, but basically it looks like most of the artists signed an agreement allowing photography – except for a minority… the big names like Tracey Emin managing to stand their ground.
So in amongst the people jiggling their way through the gallery to get a better look at something that had caught their eye were a number of art tourists, hardly pausing for breath while they snapped another painting and moved on. Art in a hurry with no time to stand and appreciate the work, the meaning or the skill – just another digital image to look at later. Why bother? Why not just look up the artist on the internet – you can easily see them all on the RA’s website. But how can you possibly appreciate it that way? One guy took a photo of one of Tom Phillips’ versions of ‘A Human Document’ almost at a run without seeming to look at the work while he pressed the button on his phone. Did he realise it was one of a series? Did he know which version?
Anyway, it took me a little while, but I did whip out the camera in the end and take a couple of shots. I’ve always wanted to take a photo of the grates in the Royal Academy….